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Recreational marijuana petition campaign still on schedule despite challenges, organizer says

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A petition to allow for recreational use of marijuana has been held up by legal challenges, with a hearing Jan. 6 and a ruling not expected until later in the month, but the organizer says the effort is still on schedule.

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action has filed two state questions related to cannabis, and organizer Jed Green said the group is on track with its goal. The group hopes to collect the minimum 178,000 signatures before June and allow for Gov. Kevin Stitt to choose from multiple 2022 ballots for a public vote on SQ 818 and SQ 819.

The state questions will seek to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to legalize cannabis use for anyone at least 21 years old and replace the state medical marijuana industry’s current oversight agency.

A comparable professional campaign could cost anywhere from $3 million to $5 million, Green pointed out in an interview with Tulsa World last week. Depending on ORCA’s ability to raise funds, the budget for SQs 818-819 could be more like the grassroots effort that brought medical marijuana to the ballot via SQ 788 for a win in 2018. But he’s confident either way, Green said.

“I can drive a jalopy across the finish line, or I can do it in a Cadillac,” he said.

Green has been building up to this point since the campaign for SQ 788, even telling people then he would be pushing for recreational use and “doing it right at this time.”

So the challenges brought by a Tulsa political gadfly known for creating a spectacle haven’t derailed the effort, according to Green. He even welcomes the opportunity Thursday at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

“Paul (Tay) may be doing us a favor by having a hearing specifically on the gist to begin with,” Green said of the ballot language of the state question.

He noted the gist, as well as the ballot title, can be challenged again upon a successful signature gathering campaign. Having ballot language that’s already cleared hurdles in arguments before the state Supreme Court could head off legal delays down the line.

An attorney general can challenge the language of a state question before it goes to a ballot, but Green said: “as long as the suggested replacement is not completely nuts, I’m going to say ‘Sure, whatever you want to do.’

“Because I believe by the time they get there ... they know how they’re going to vote.”

Green said ORCA will be looking for partners in the state’s legal marijuana industry to help in the effort and raise awareness. He thinks the campaign itself could be a signal to lawmakers that Oklahoma is ready for the next step in building a revenue-generating cannabis industry. They’re aiming for 300,000 signatures, well over the amount required, to send a message.

“If we do that, and get organized in every district across the state, I don’t care ... what they say” — the effect on legislators could be “chilling,” Green said, noting the next session will convene February to May at the Capitol.

That is also ORCA’s projected start for signature gathering, a testament to Green’s confidence in the January ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court. He says most of the challenges of any substance were addressed Dec. 14 before a court referee.

“If all goes well,” Green said, and ORCA is able to submit more than the minimum required signatures by June, “it would give the governor greater flexibility to allow us onto the primary runoff ballot.”

His preference would be the late-August primary runoff ballot over the general election in November, Green said. ORCA has a steep hill to climb to get to that point, but he is all optimism.

“By April 15, we might have 300,000 signatures to turn in,” he said, “and we could even maybe give the governor the option of the primary ballot.”

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