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Petition filed to legalize recreational marijuana in Oklahoma

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Barry Magnin smokes marijuana from the Green Buffalo located at 784 Asp Ave. in Norman, Okla. on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. The Green Buffalo is a newer dispensary on Campus Corner in Norman, despite colleges around the state still banning even medical marijuana, owner Joe Wilson thinks he has the best location in the state. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Barry Magnin smokes marijuana from the Green Buffalo located at 784 Asp Ave. in Norman, Okla. on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. The Green Buffalo is a newer dispensary on Campus Corner in Norman, despite colleges around the state still banning even medical marijuana, owner Joe Wilson thinks he has the best location in the state. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

An initiative petition to legalize recreational marijuana use for Oklahomans ages 21 and older was quietly filed Thursday with the secretary of state’s office.

The 14-page petition seeks to amend Oklahoma’s constitution to legalize recreational marijuana for most residents and impose a 15% excise tax on recreational cannabis.

The measure also includes a provision to nullify many prior drug convictions, which could make waves in Oklahoma's criminal justice system.

The State Question 806 petition came as a surprise to leaders of the state's medical marijuana industry, who may push back against the measure over concerns that it could hinder the state's existing medical program.

Chris Moe, a co-founder of Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance, sees the petition as a way for marijuana to become a cash crop in Oklahoma. Legalizing recreational marijuana could bring in more visitors from Texas and Kansas, states where marijuana use remains completely illegal.

"We've got a chance to turn the I-35 corridor into a money alley," he said.

Moe, who offered some input in crafting the petition, characterized those backing the measure as a grassroots group of Oklahomans.

The petition also gives marijuana supporters leverage over lawmakers as they head into legislative session in February, Moe said. During the session, lawmakers will debate dozens of proposed changes to the state medical marijuana program, which was formed when Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788 in 2018.

"We need to run a petition during the legislative session so every marijuana argument gets more signatures on that paper," he said. "Every sheet full of signatures stops one more argument at the Capitol. A year later, the end result will be a better 788 or with full access to marijuana going on the ballot in November."

As the state's marijuana industry has grown, so too have whispers about the possibility of a state question to legalize recreational marijuana. But Oklahoma's marijuana community is divided on whether the state should legalize recreational marijuana.

Chip Paul, an activist who authored SQ 788, said he was taken by surprise at the petition's filing. Oklahomans for Health, of which he is a co-founder, wasn't consulted on the petition's language, nor was seemingly anyone else, he said.

"Since we were the original proponent of the medical marijuana law, you would think that, as a courtesy, when things like this are introduced, we would be checked with," he said. "We have subsequently found out that no other major marijuana-based nonprofits in Oklahoma were checked with, nor were lawmakers, nor were any of the traditional avenues."

The proposed 15% excise tax on recreational marijuana would not differ that much from other states. Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, imposes a 15% excise tax and a 15% sales tax on recreational cannabis.

Should the petition pass, it sets up how recreational marijuana taxes will be divided up to fund education, municipalities and state grant programs. The tax revenue would go into a new fund. Oklahoma’s Legislature would have the power to change the 15% tax rate no sooner than Nov. 3, 2024.

Oklahoma voters have made it clear they support regulating and taxing marijuana use, said Oklahoma City resident Amy Young, who filed the petition.

“The status quo wastes law enforcement resources that would better be spent fighting serious crimes," she said. "It’s time to let the people decide this issue.”

Medical marijuana in Oklahoma is taxed at one of the highest rates in the country.

Under the proposed state question, people caught smoking marijuana in disallowed public places will be subject to a $25 fine. The petition bars law enforcement officials from searching, detaining or arresting people who are caught smoking marijuana in allowed public places.

The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, which would be renamed the Oklahoma Marijuana Authority, would be tasked with setting up rules on the use of recreational marijuana in public in addition to other reasonable rules and regulations to carry out the act.

The petition outlines limits on how much recreational marijuana people would be able to possess and grants people the authority to grow a limited number of cannabis plants at home.

Anyone under age 21 who is caught possessing, ingesting, inhaling, or transporting marijuana could face a civil penalty of $100 and be required to forfeit the cannabis.

The petition would make the recreational cannabis law retroactive.

Oklahomans who have been convicted of drug charges that effectively would be nullified by making the recreational use of marijuana legal would be able to petition the courts to have the conviction dismissed and their record expunged.

Supporters of the measure will have to collect nearly 178,000 signatures to get it on the ballot in 2020.

Carmen Forman

Carmen Forman covers the state Capitol and governor's office for The Oklahoman. A Norman native and graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she previously covered state politics in Virginia and Arizona before returning to Oklahoma. Read more ›

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