Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt announced on Tuesday that he has set a special election to be held in March for a vote on an initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Voters will go to the polls on March 7, 2023, to decide on State Question 820, which would legalize cannabis for use by adults 21 and older and authorize commercial cannabis cultivation and sales.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, the group campaigning for the passage of SQ 820, had hoped the initiative would appear on ballots for the midterm elections next month. But delays certifying the measure led state officials to proclaim the measure would not be included on ballots for the November election, a decision that was upheld last month by the state Supreme Court.
“After all the delays caused by the new signature count process, we are excited to finally be on the ballot on March 7, 2023, so that Oklahomans can experience the benefits of the State Question without further delay,” Michelle Tilley, campaign director for Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Law, said in a public statement following Stitt’s announcement. “We are grateful the voices of over 164,000 Oklahomans who signed the petition and want to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in Oklahoma have been heard.”
The group said that it is energized for what will be a five-month campaign to pass SQ 820, writing that “Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, and Independents alike are excited to stop wasting law enforcement resources and start reaping the hundreds of millions of dollars in financial benefits that come with legalizing, regulating, and taxing recreational marijuana for adults in Oklahoma.”
Arshad Lasi, CEO of Tulsa cannabis dispensary The Nirvana Group, told High Times in an email that “it’s exciting that the state government is deciding to move forward with potentially legalizing adult-use cannabis after all. They seem to be realizing that opening up the recreational market will be good for the economy, provide greater access to allow people to get the medicinal products they need and of course, open up a new branch of our industry to more demographics.”
Voters To Decide On State Question 820
If Oklahoma voters pass SQ 820 in March, the initiative would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older. The ballot initiative would also task the state’s existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with drafting and implementing rules to regulate the new recreational cannabis industry. The measure also includes provisions to allow those with past convictions for some marijuana offenses to petition the courts to reverse their convictions and have their criminal record expunged.
State Question 820 would set a 15% tax on sales of recreational marijuana, more than double the 7% tax rate levied on sales of medical cannabis. Taxes generated by the sale of recreational pot would be divided among the state’s General Revenue Fund, local governments that allow licensed adult-use cannabis businesses to operate in their jurisdiction, the state court system, school districts, and drug treatment programs.
Stitt has said that he is in favor of federal marijuana legalization. But he opposes SQ820, maintaining the patchwork of cannabis policy that has resulted from state legalization efforts is problematic.
“Do I wish that the feds would pass legalized marijuana? Yes. I think that would solve a lot of issues from all these different states,” Stitt recently told The Associated Press. “But in our state, just trying to protect our state right now, I don’t think it would be good for Oklahoma.”
Supreme Court Nixes State Question 820 from Midterm Ballot
In July, Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws submitted petitions with signatures from more than 164,000 voters in favor of the legalization initiative, far exceeding the number required to qualify for the ballot. But the secretary of state’s office, which used a new system to verify signatures, took far longer to certify the signatures than in previous elections, leaving too little time to include the question on the November ballot, according to election officials.
The campaign for SQ 820 challenged the decision to delay the vote, arguing the group had met all state guidance and deadlines for submitting the proposal to state officials. But last month, the state Supreme Court affirmed the decision by election officials and ruled that the measure would not be included on the ballot for the midterm election next month.
“There is no way to mandate the inclusion of SQ820 on the November 2022 general election ballot,” Justice Douglas Combs wrote in the majority opinion. “SQ820 will be voted upon by the people of Oklahoma, albeit either at the next general election following November 8, 2022, or at a special election set by the Governor or the Legislature.”
Following Stitt’s announcement on Tuesday, Oklahomans for Sensible Laws announced that it would conduct a five-month drive to push for passage of SQ 820. The group encouraged voters to update their voter registration and support the campaign by visiting YesOn820.com or following its social media accounts @YesOn820.
Oklahoma’s special election in March to decide on the legalization of recreational marijuana will follow similar votes in five states next month. Voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota will all see adult-use cannabis legalization measures on their ballots for the midterm elections on November 8.