After a surprise announcement Tuesday, it does not appear that Green the Vote will have enough signatures to place a constitutional question for recreational marijuana on a ballot.
Activists still plan to deliver petitions to the Capitol on the Wednesday deadline, but it’s still unclear what will happen with the group and its mission to legalize recreational cannabis after the final signature count is released.
Last week, the Tulsa World reported that Green the Vote said it had gathered the necessary signatures for a public vote on State Question 797, which would make recreational marijuana legal for adults 21 or older. But overnight Monday, the cannabis community learned via social media that the 132,527 number provided had been intentionally inflated by two of the group’s board members and that the drive actually gathered closer to 75,000 signatures.
The group also promoted State Question 796 in support of a constitutional amendment regarding medical marijuana, but organizers never claimed that it had crossed the signature threshold.
“I’m sure there are plenty of mad people, and that’s absolutely understandable. But we all want the same thing here,” Green the Vote co-founder and board member Joshua Lewelling told the Tulsa World on Tuesday afternoon. “As far as the future’s concerned, we will address that after the secretary of state’s count. We’re going to see this through to the end, and we’re still very optimistic.”
If fewer signatures than the 123,725 threshold are validated, they will not carry over if Green the Vote promotes any future petition drives. And Lewelling said it will be more difficult for the group to obtain enough signatures for such a drive because the threshold will almost certainly increase.
“The last gubernatorial race (had low voter turnout), but due to the climate right now with the education issues and the marijuana issues, the political climate right now … for this gubernatorial election is going to be through the roof,” he said.
Signature requirements for state questions are based on the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial general election, and “the signature requirement could jump to up to 200,000, making it unrealistic for a volunteer group to pull these numbers off,” he added.
More signatures are needed to get a proposed constitutional amendment, such as SQs 796 and 797, on the ballot than a proposed statutory change, such as the recently approved State Question 788. But Lewelling said Green the Vote has “traditionally not wanted to go the statutory route.”
“We’re seeing reason for that in what’s happened with 788. We want the people’s voice heard. We don’t want the people’s voice toyed with,” he said. “They (lawmakers) changed 780 and 781 (criminal justice reforms) and came out and said the people didn’t know what they were voting on. We did, and that’s an insult to voters.”
Lewelling told supporters early Tuesday that “nothing’s changing right now” with Green the Vote’s operations. But Dody Sullivan, another board member who has since stepped down, said in a Facebook Live video late Monday that she finally found north on her “moral compass” and wanted to be honest with the community.
Sullivan and longtime Green the Vote leader Isaac Caviness had seen several petition drives fail over the years in a quest to let Oklahomans decide on legalizing marijuana. So toward the beginning of this petition drive, when numbers appeared to be on the low side, Sullivan said she and Caviness agreed on a plan unbeknownst to the rest of the board.
They would release a signature count weekly, but the numbers would not be accurate, she said. Instead, the numbers would be announced for the purpose of keeping people in the movement energized.
The pro-cannabis activist community started buzzing with the news late Monday when Sullivan appeared on Facebook Live with board members Ashley Mullen-Lowry and Jamie Nall. Mullen-Lowry told Green the Vote’s Facebook followers: “You have all been lied to.”
Mullen-Lowry said the women were concerned about who would “take the fall” and “who was going to point fingers at who” if the discrepancy became public after the signatures were turned in to the Secretary of State’s Office.
“She’s not going down for this,” Mullen-Lowry said of Sullivan. “I will fight you. Just so you know.”
Caviness, in his own statement online, said to activists, “I understand I have let you down.”
“No matter what — if we have the signatures, if we don’t have the signatures — I have let you down, and I accept that,” he said.
But Caviness said he was hurt by many of the allegations the women made in their broadcast, going so far as to say Sullivan “panicked, and she bailed on us, and she left Green the Vote high and dry.”
Sullivan said Monday night that she had to come forward because she “made the mistake of trusting somebody who is not trustworthy.”
“I let you all down because I did not feel that I had the wherewithal to step up and say, ‘This is what’s happening,’” she said. “I didn’t think that you would keep going, because there was a point where we could have caught up, where it was not so far out of the realm of possibility.”
Lewelling told the World he declined to accept Caviness’s offer to resign from Green the Vote for continuity reasons, saying Caviness, as the public face of the group, remains a major point of contact for volunteers. He also said he believed Caviness did not have malicious intent when he released inflated signature counts.
“He was trying to motivate people. When there’s a bandwagon, people jump on it,” Lewelling said.
Cody Stidham, a volunteer with Green the Vote, was still collecting names at a booth outside the HempRx shop near 81st Street and Memorial Drive in Tulsa on Monday afternoon. He said the only number of signatures that matters is the one released by the secretary of state and that, while he was “shocked” by this week’s events, he remains undeterred by Caviness’ and Sullivan’s actions.
“Once I realized that (the numbers) were manipulated, it did break my heart. But it motivated me even more to get signatures,” Stidham said. “I’m still pushing for cannabis to be legal. That’s always what I’ve believed in, and nothing’s changed on that.”
Ron Durbin, attorney for Green the Vote in a pending lawsuit regarding the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana program, released a statement in which he said he was “saddened and deeply upset” by the developments but did not want it to overshadow the work of volunteers.
“Obviously I do not agree with decisions which resulted in the misrepresentation of the vote count. Both as a motivational tool and strategy, it makes no sense to me,” Durbin said. “However, I know Isaac’s character, and it is solid. The same is true for every single member of Green the Vote I’ve met through this process.”