Challenge period for Oklahoma marijuana initiative ends with four challenges filed; state supreme court to decide on whether the initiative will appear on the 2022 ballot

A 10-day challenge period for Oklahoma marijuana initiative State Question 820 ended on September 15 with four challenges filed with the state Supreme Court. In addition to resolving the challenges, the Supreme Court is also set to decide on whether the measure will be placed on the November 2022 ballot.

Once signatures for an initiative are submitted, the secretary of state’s office counts the signatures and submits a report to the court. On August 22, the secretary of state announced that proponents submitted 117,257 valid signatures and forwarded the signature count report to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After the supreme court determines the sufficiency of signatures, the court orders the secretary of state to publish a notice of the signature submission, the ballot title, and notice that any citizen may file a petition challenging the sufficiency of the signatures or ballot title within 10 days.

The challenge period for State Question 820 began on September 1 and ended on September 15, 2022. Two challenges were filed related to the validity of signatures submitted for the initiative and two challenges were filed related to the initiative’s ballot language.

Former Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R) and former gubernatorial candidate Paul Tay (I) filed lawsuits with the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the validity of signatures submitted by proponents. Reynolds argued that the validity of signatures cannot be reviewed without taking legal action to review them and requested a signature review period. Tay argued that signatures collected on American Indian lands should be invalidated. Attorneys for initiative sponsors said, “As this Court is aware, ballot deadlines are looming, and time is of the essence here. Proponents thus respectfully request that the Court resolve the instant challenge quickly, to ensure that SQ820 may be submitted to a vote of the People at the upcoming November 2022 general election.”

A challenge to the initiative’s ballot language was filed by John Stotts, a former member of the Pottawatomie County Farm Bureau board of directors; Karma Robinson, president of public affairs and political communications firm GR Pro; and Mary Chris Barth, a current member of the Beaver County Farm Bureau’s board of directors. The challenge alleged that the ballot language is misleading because it fails to mention that “several laws protecting children from marijuana would be removed,” “possession of a firearm while under the influence of marijuana would be legalized,” and “more serious marijuana crimes would be legalized or decriminalized.”

A second challenge to the ballot language was filed by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action director Jed Green, sponsor of other proposed marijuana initiatives for which no signatures were submitted by the August deadline. Green alleged that State Question 820’s ballot language is misleading because it fails to mention that the initiative could be amended by the state legislature if approved by voters, public consumption fines would be limited to $25, and that medical marijuana dispensaries would need a second license to sell adult-use marijuana.

After an initiative petition is found to have sufficient signatures and all challenges have been resolved, the secretary of state notifies the governor, who issues an election proclamation. The governor’s election proclamation must be issued and certified to the State Election Board at least 70 days prior to an election in order for a state question to appear on a ballot. Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said August 29 (70 days prior to the general election) was the deadline to formally certify measures for the ballot.

State Question 820 sponsors asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court to expedite the ballot title verification process and include the measure on the November 2022 ballot, saying that “The new process took about 48 days from the time we turned in our signatures until the time they were verified. In the past, that was usually about two weeks or a little longer. It’s been a new process for them, which has caused a lot of missteps along the way. They have dropped the ball, which is why we have asked the Supreme Court to intervene.” The state argued for the measure to be placed on the ballot for a later election — either a special election if one is called or the 2024 ballot.

In a press release published on September 16, the State Question 820 campaign said proponents “remain optimistic that the Oklahoma Supreme Court will act swiftly to dismiss the seemingly politically motivated challenges, and let the people vote.”

Marijuana legalization measures are certified to appear on the 2022 ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Votes on the Arkansas initiative may not be counted pending a state Supreme Court ruling.