By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Supporters of a proposal to legalize use of marijuana for medical purposes got some good news this week, clearing the way for an eventual vote on the statutory ballot initiative.
As a ten-day period for challenges to petition signatures ended, no hurdles remained to clear the measure for a future statewide ballot.
In a statement sent to The City Sentinel and other news organizations on Thursday (September 29), Chip Paul, co-chair of the sponsoring organization, Oklahomans for Health, said, “Oklahomans for health is excited that medical marijuana is one step closer to a vote of the people. This successful grassroots effort is a demonstration of how meaningful policy can be approached in a democratic society. We look forward to bringing this policy to a vote of the people in the very near future.”
Ryan Kiesel, executive director for ACLU of Oklahoma, also celebrated the news, saying, “The more than 67,000 Oklahomans who signed the petition for medical marijuana will have their voices heard. The historic success of this grassroots effort … s a testament to the overwhelming support for medical marijuana. As a result, Oklahomans will have an opportunity to cast their ballot in favor of a modern, medically proven, and evidence based drug law, moving the State one step closer to sensible drug policy.
“In the meantime, we will continue our challenge to the Attorney General’s politicized and misleading re-write of the ballot title while working to ensure Oklahoma voters are able to decide this question as soon as possible.”
The original summary language for the measure (the one on the initiative petitions supporters of ballot access signed) described the intent as follows:
“This measure amends the Oklahoma State Statutes. A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes. A license is required for use and possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes and must be approved by an Oklahoma Board Certified Physician.
The State Department of Health will issue medical marijuana licenses if the application is eighteen years of older an Oklahoma resident.
“A special exception will be granted to an applicant under the age of eighteen, however these applications must be signed by two physicians and a parent or legal guardian. The Department will also issue seller, grower, packaging, transportation, research and caregiver licenses. Individual and retail businesses must meet minimal requirements to be licensed to sell marijuana to licensees. The punishment for unlicensed possession of permitted amounts of marijuana for individuals who can state a medical condition is a fine not exceeding four hundred dollars. Fees and zoning restrictions are established. A seven percent state tax is imposed on medical marijuana sales.”
All submitted initiatives are subject to review of signatures at the Secretary of State’s office. Further, the state attorney general’s office can examine any initiative petition summary before it is slotted for the ballot. Ballot summaries are important because they include the language voters will see on statewide ballots.
In August, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt revised the summary to read as follows:
“This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified. Possession and use of marijuana is authorized through a medical marijuana license that is valid for two years, rather than by prescription. An Oklahoma board certified physician must recommend the license using the same accepted standards for recommending other medications, and must sign the application for the license.
The State Department of Health must issue a license to an applicant who:
• submits a valid application,
• is eighteen years or older, and
• is an Oklahoma resident.
“Applications for individuals under eighteen must be signed by two physicians and by a parent or legal guardian. The Department also issues seller, grower, packaging, transportation, research, and recycled paper caregiver licenses to those who meet certain minimal requirements. A 7 percent state tax is imposed on retail sales of marijuana. Unlicensed possession by an individual who claims to have a medical condition is punishable by a fine not exceeding $400. Local government cannot use zoning laws to prevent the opening of a retail marijuana store. This measure does not change federal law, which makes use, sale, and growth of marijuana illegal.”
Supporters of medical marijuana immediately objected to several aspects of Pruitt’s summary, including the first sentence asserting the proposal “legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana” in the state – without stipulating the legalization would be for medical uses only.”
Defenders of the proposal – which will be designated State Question 788 on a future ballot – sued to strike Pruitt’s language. Encouraged by the measure’s affirmed ballot status, advocates turned to changing the Pruitt-written ballot summary with renewed energy at week’s end.
Although petition signatures for the issue were submitted during the summer, the procedural “clock” began ticking a little too late for the medical marijuana measure to make the 2016 ballot. Although the initiative could be added to an earlier statewide election, the November 2018 ballot seems most likely at this point.