Petitions update

Oklahoma’s cannabis petitions found delays with the COVID-19 pandemic and faced further hurdles in the form of challenges.

Before COVID-19 hit Oklahoma and shattered expectations for the year, numerous ballot initiative petitions related to the future of cannabis (and related criminal justice reform measures) were filed. The acrimonious debate about them all but subsided once the novel coronavirus reached the state, but all of them have been working their way through court challenges on their way to petition drives.

State Question 806, which was later rescinded, revised and became State Question 807, was the first and the one to make the most headlines upon its arrival.

SQ807 drew the suspicions of local cannabis patients and business owners because it was “backed by stakeholders in Oklahoma and New Approach PAC, a national marijuana reform organization that has managed successful ballot initiative campaigns to legalize medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana in several other states,” according to a news release.

The organization is based in Washington, D.C. and has been involved in numerous states’ initiatives, including Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska and Oregon, according to Ballotpedia.

Critics of the recreational markets in California and Oregon have claimed that these initiatives destroyed not only the business environments but also the culture surrounding medical cannabis in those states.

The revised SQ807 petition was filed on behalf of Ryan Kiesel, former American Civil Liberties Union executive director, and Michelle Tilley, a career Democratic political strategist who served as campaign manager for both SQ807 as well as State Question 802. SQ802 very narrowly passed with voters this June, making Oklahoma the newest state to expand Medicaid through a petition initiative.

As SQ802 was making its way to the June 30 ballot, SQ807 was delayed, challenged by Paul Tay, a perennial candidate for Tulsa mayor. An Oklahoma Supreme Court referee heard the case in late February, but the court’s opinion allowing it to move forward was not released until a week before the special election due to a court closure resulting from the pandemic.

The proponents in mid-July returned to the state’s high court seeking extraordinary relief, arguing that the petition drive to gather signatures would be irreversibly disrupted by continued social distancing measures and reduced public gatherings. That relief was denied Aug. 3.

All of the court’s justices agreed, based upon a previous ruling in response to a sought delay of petition gathering for State Question 805, that the signature-gathering petition should continue as scheduled.

Prior to the court’s ruling, the Oklahoma Secretary of State set the 90-day window for the gathering of signatures to begin on July 29. The deadline for the signatures is 5 p.m. on Oct. 26. Due to the delay of the signature-gathering period and its deadline, SQ807 will not appear on the general election ballot Nov. 3.

Meanwhile, Tay filed State Question 808, another ballot initiative petition pertaining to cannabis legalization for adult use, or recreational use. Tay was charged in July 2019 with outraging public decency after panhandling with a dildo attached to a bike helmet along a Tulsa city street. He took the case to jury trial in Tulsa County District Court in January and was convicted and sentenced to nine months in jail. He appeared before the Supreme Court referee from inside the Tulsa county jail, where he made his arguments via teleconference. He was released from jail in June.

Since Tay filed SQ808 on Dec. 27 and since it was not challenged in court, the signature-gathering period began while he was jailed. No petitions or signed signatures were delivered to the secretary of state by the deadline of close of business Aug. 3.

However, while jailed in Tulsa, Tay also challenged another ballot initiative petition pertaining to the legalization of cannabis for adult use. State Question 813 is thereby on hold by the Oklahoma Secretary of State until the matter is resolved with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. A teleconference before an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee was held July 21. The justices have not yet ruled on the merits of Tay’s challenge.

State Question 812, filed by the same group as SQ813 and seeking to revise criminal laws pertaining to cannabis, was not challenged. Its signature-gathering period expires at close of business on Oct. 5.