Rough takeoff 

The secretive launch of State Question 806 upset and angered much of the medical cannabis community before it was voluntarily withdrawn 11 days later.

State Question 806 has caused contention the medical cannabis community. - PHILLIP DANNER
  • Phillip Danner
  • State Question 806 has caused contention the medical cannabis community.

Once word of State Question 806 began making the rounds, the cannabis sphere was instantly teeming with fury. The petition was withdrawn 11 days later, but a revised version is expected to be filed before the year’s end.

The buzz began quietly while people first learned of State Question 806, then as more people gave the petition the first read, the opposition began speaking out and organizing. Within a week of the petition being filed, there were numerous Facebook groups with names like “Kill the Bill” and “Vote No on SQ806” as well as digital leaflets and memes being passed around social media.

Much of the initial fury revolved around the issue that there was not broad industry input on the initiative petition’s contents and, in fact, the vast majority of the cannabis community was taken by surprise by its introduction. Also at issue was the quiet introduction of the petition to the secretary of state’s office, the identities of the women whose names were on the petition and questioning the authorship itself.

The initiative petition was filed with the secretary of state’s office on Dec. 12 and was uploaded to the site on Dec. 13. Details slowly surfaced, like that longtime political organizer Michelle Tilley had been tapped to be the campaign manager. On Dec. 19, a week after filing, American Civil Liberties Union Oklahoma’s executive director Ryan Kiesel came forth and did a short Facebook live video with Lawrence Pasternack on Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance’s page where they both revealed more details.

Pasternack said in the video that he, Chris Moe and Norma Sapp had met with Kiesel about a month prior after they were approached by the group wanting to run a citizen petition for adult use, or recreational, cannabis. A few weeks later, Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance was sent a draft. Kiesel said he was involved in a personal capacity and not in coordination with ACLU.

Kiesel did not have a hand in the authorship of State Question 788 but represented Oklahomans for Health when ACLU argued successfully in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court that the attorney general’s rewrite of the ballot language was misleading.

Kiesel said in the Facebook video that the group decided to push forward once they realized there was broad support for such an initiative. He acknowledged that the rollout was intentionally kept quiet to hopefully avoid language challenges during the filing window.

“Time is our enemy here, where we have to get everything done, all of the legal process has to be completed and finished and the campaign has to be out, signatures have to be collected, they have to be validated, they have to be verified sometime mid-August before they actually print the November general election ballots for 2020. The secrecy wasn’t secrecy for the sake of trying to keep folks from giving input. The secrecy was to give us some time to put together a more organized campaign, and a part of that was, if we’re to be putting together an organized campaign, that we’ll have a funded signature collection effort with it. It’s best if we don’t have a protest. Our hope is that having a low-key rollout would give us that time to potentially avoid a protest and then to begin to put together a top-notch campaign apparatus around this. I can tell you the people that have been working on this are leaders in the state and even around the nation in marijuana law reform and criminal justice reform in budget revenue and taxation policy, in mental health and substance abuse policy and then in campaign management. This ballot measure, this concept, represents an amazing opportunity for the people of Oklahoma to build on what we built with State Question 788, not tear it down, not take away those patient protections that are there right now. I know there’s a lot of misinformation out there about what this would do in regard to medical,” Kiesel said. “We’ve got an amazing campaign team, some of the best lawyers in the state of Oklahoma working on this and some of the best activists, and we’re ready to do this and make Oklahoma an adult use state but not just an adult use state, but the adult use state, the one that’s a model for the nation, that looks at the best policies that we’ve learned from the 11 other states that have done this and implements it in an even better way.”

Petition withdrawal

Then, on Dec. 23, the petitioners withdrew the petition, again without a word. The news broke again via the Oklahoma secretary of state’s website on Thursday, and once again, the cannabis community’s social media exploded.

The withdrawal is a single sentence requesting the withdrawal of the petition. It is signed by the original petitioners, Vanessa Brandon Avery and Amy Young.

Young made a Facebook post Thursday afternoon that read in part: “In the end, I changed my mind about something very important to our state, mainly because of two things: 1. I want Oklahoma children to have the medicine that they need and 2. I want Oklahoma businesses to thrive. 99% of what I do is based on what I want to give to Oklahoma. After being an educator for 25 years, my original choice was based in hopes for more funding for education, mental health, releasing people from modern day slavery (privatized prisons where imprisonment benefits investors) and infrastructure improvements for the entire state. I want more for all of us here in Oklahoma. But I can also see when I’ve been wrong and won’t hesitate to admit it, apologize and correct it if I can. The truth is that the people I agreed to sign for came to me and suggested rescinding at the exact moment that I was going to ask for it, so please take this as a starting point for something that could help so many, not a final solution. Speak up about what you want. I’m sure they will be watching. I am no longer affiliated with that group but I believe that they are trying to do something good here.”

Tilley said they had hoped to refile the new petition when SQ806 was withdrawn, but the language was still being worked out as of Dec. 26.

“We’ve been trying to talk to a lot of different people and try to get as much feedback as we can,” she said. “We want to make it as strong as possible, and there’s just so much concern that it’s affecting the medical community. We don’t want that, so we’re working on language to make it crystal clear that we do not warm to harm the medical marijuana community.”

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