The Oklahoman

Group provides marijuana petitions

Grassroots organizers push for vote

- Carmen Forman

Whether Oklahoma voters will support legalizing recreation­al marijuana is a toss up, said the leader of a grassroots cannabis group that is pushing for a statewide vote on the issue next year.

If State Question 817 qualifies for the ballot, Jed Green, the director of Oklahomans for Responsibl­e Cannabis Action, said the results could be as up in the air as flipping a coin.

The group filed last week State Question 817 to legalize recreation­al marijuana use for people age 21 and older and filed State Question 818 to update Oklahoma’s medical marijuana laws.

“We’re not trying to shove anything down anyone’s throat; we are here to provide an option,” Green said Tuesday at a news conference.

Support for legalizing recreation­al cannabis in Oklahoma has hovered at

around 43% in public polling conducted in recent years, Green said.

The longtime political organizer said the election could also depend on who turns out to vote. In what came as a shock to some Oklahomans, medical marijuana supporters turned out in force to support SQ 788 in 2018.

Green tried to allay fears that unintended consequenc­es of legalizing medical cannabis could worsen if voters legalize recreation­al marijuana.

Because it’s relatively easy and cheap to get a grower’s license in Oklahoma, the state has become home to a thriving cannabis black market in which some people are legally or illegally growing plants for illegal sale outside the Sooner State.

“If recreation­al marijuana is legalized in Oklahoma, the only thing that changes is who can walk into a dispensary and buy it,” Green said.

Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, said he understand­s some people are frustrated because Oklahoma’s GOP-led Legislatur­e hasn’t warmed to the idea of legalizing recreation­al marijuana. This year, Fetgatter introduced legislatio­n to refer to the ballot a question to legalize recreation­al cannabis, but it didn’t get heard in committee.

But Fetgatter said he thinks Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program has lost some of its support in rural areas of the state, which may not bode well for a statewide vote on recreation­al cannabis.

Some rural Oklahomans who voted for SQ 788 now say they regret the decision because of the explosion of illegal activity within the industry, he said.

Previously, several groups have tried and failed to get recreation­al cannabis measures on the ballot.

If the state questions withstand any legal challenges, Oklahomans for Responsibl­e Cannabis would have 90 days to gather 178,000 valid signatures per petition.

Although Green said he’s not immediatel­y focused on raising money to aid the state question campaigns, he expressed confidence the medical marijuana community and business owners will chip in.

“This is not basically a hope and a dream and a Hail Mary pass like (SQ) 788,” he said. “This is a billion-dollar industry in the state. There is a lot of money on the line. There are probably 7,000 to 8,000 legitimate businesses employing 50,000-plus people in the state whose businesses are on the line on this.”

The two state questions were crafted over the course of several months with widespread input from people in Oklahoma’s cannabis community, Green said.

Medical marijuana question

SQ 818 proposes making the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority a standalone state agency and outlines the structure for what would be called the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission.

OMMA currently is part of the state’s Health Department.

Green said the intent is to streamline oversight of all cannabis and hemp regulation in Oklahoma.

The state question would also enshrine protection­s for Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program in the state’s constituti­on, where it would be harder for lawmakers to change or alter medical marijuana laws.

“We want to make the rights of patients and the rights of individual­s constituti­onal rights,” Green said. “We don’t want to see patients and members of our community feeling like they’re under threat every time the Legislatur­e is in session.”

Some state lawmakers have introduced legislatio­n to severely restrict medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

Green said the petition is necessary because the legislativ­e process has failed the cannabis community.

He noted the Legislatur­e’s failure this year to pass legislatio­n to make OMMA a standalone agency. The legislatio­n passed the House, but stalled in the Senate.

Green also cited when Gov. Kevin Stitt last year vetoed an omnibus medical marijuana bill supported by the OMMA, many within the industry and supermajor­ities in both chambers of the Legislatur­e.

Stitt said he vetoed the bill because it made substantia­l policy changes to the medical marijuana program “that were not fully scrutinize­d through normal legislativ­e procedures.”

Fetgatter said kinks in Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program should be solved through the legislativ­e process, which he admitted can be slow at times.

He’s asked supporters of SQ 818 what’s so wrong with the state’s medical program that it can’t be worked on over time through the Legislatur­e.

“As it pertains to the medical program, I cannot get answers as to why we can’t allow the citizens of Oklahoma the time to work with their legislator­s on marijuana, and why we have to have everything and we have to have it right now,” Fetgatter said.

Oklahoma’s cannabis community is a force to be reckoned with, Green said.

He expressed confidence that grassroots activism from medical marijuana supporters could catapult the two state questions onto the ballot.

“We’ve technicall­y got 2,000 field offices up and ready to go,” Green said of dispensari­es across the state. “There will be no other campaign and has been no other campaign in state history that actually starts with the level of strength that this community has.”

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