Recreational marijuana question one step closer to making it on Oklahoma ballots
A state question to legalize recreational marijuana is one step closer to going before voters this November after supporters turned in signatures Tuesday to qualify the measure for the ballot.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws turned in to the secretary of state's office about 164,000 signatures — significantly more than the 94,910 signatures required to qualify for a statewide vote.
Throughout the signature-gathering phase, the campaign saw a groundswell of support and favorable polling for legalizing recreational cannabis, said Ryan Kiesel, senior campaign adviser.
Come November, "we're expecting Oklahomans to say yes to this," he said.
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Most adults could partake in recreational cannabis under SQ 820
State Question 820 would legalize recreational or "adult-use" marijuana for anyone age 21 or older.
If approved, the question would impose a 15% excise tax on all recreational marijuana sales, which is higher than the 7% excise tax levied on all medical marijuana sales.
The new tax revenue would be divided among the state's General Revenue Fund, localities where sales occur, school districts, the court system and drug treatment programs.
SQ 820 would not do away with the state's medical marijuana program. Rather, the recreational and medical cannabis programs would operate alongside each other with oversight from the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
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Criminal justice reforms are a major piece of the state question. Under SQ 820, the changes to Oklahoma's marijuana laws would apply retroactively, which would allow some drug offenders to petition to have their convictions reversed and criminal records expunged.
SQ 820 would streamline the process for Oklahomans with old marijuana-related convictions to have their records modified, Kiesel said.
"Oklahomans don't think that people should be continually punished for something that's no longer a crime," he said.
Kiesel said he expects tens of thousands of Oklahomans could get their cannabis convictions cleared under SQ 820, if it is approved by voters.
With 90 days to collect signatures, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws turned in signatures nearly a month before the Aug. 1 deadline imposed by the secretary of state's office.
It typically takes the secretary of state's office several weeks to count and verify the signatures.
SQ 820 would take effect 90 days after its passage. Then the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would have some time to implement rules to carry out the legal changes.
If approved by voters, recreational marijuana sales likely wouldn't start until late spring or early summer of next year, Kiesel said.
According to campaign finance reports that cover fundraising through March, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws was entirely funded by two national nonprofits, Drug Policy Action and New Approach Advocacy Fund, that advocate for marijuana legalization.
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Second recreational marijuana petition still gathering signatures
Another group that supports legalizing recreational cannabis has been collecting signatures for two different state questions since late May.
Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is also aiming to legalize recreational marijuana for adults age 21 or older, but the group has a higher bar to clear to qualify for the ballot.
Because the proposed State Question 819 is a constitutional amendment, the group must gather 177,957 signatures in 90 days.
State Question 820 proposes statutory changes to state law, which could be altered through the legislative process.
Although SQ 819 gives lawmakers some leeway to modify parts of the law, any changes to the state's constitution typically have to be approved by voters in a statewide vote.
Jed Green, director of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, said the recreational cannabis reforms need to be placed in the constitution so state lawmakers don't try to roll them back.
"The problem we've got with the statutory measure in place is the Legislature is applying the Oklahoma double standard to our businesses," Green said. "They came in and, all of a sudden, jacked up a bunch of fees and threw a bunch of extra regulations on us."
State Question 788 that legalized medical marijuana was a statutory question.
That's partly why Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is also collecting signatures to get State Question 818 on the ballot.
The constitutional amendment would make changes to the state's medical marijuana laws and enshrine the medical cannabis program in Oklahoma's constitution.
The group has until Aug. 22 to turn in signatures for both state questions to the secretary of state's office.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Recreational marijuana in Oklahoma one step closer to November ballot