Oklahoma marijuana initiative will not be on 2022 ballot but will be decided at a later election

On September 21, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that State Question 820, an initiative to legalize marijuana, could not be placed on the 2022 general election ballot because legal challenges were still pending and the question could not be printed in time for the state to meet its deadline of mailing absentee ballots.

The court’s order said the measure will be decided on at a later election date, either November 5, 2024, or at a special election. The governor can call special elections for ballot questions.

In August, the Oklahoma secretary of state announced that Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws, the campaign behind the measure, submitted a sufficient number of signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

Following signature verification, there was a period for legal challenges to be filed contesting the ballot measure. 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. The state Supreme Court rejected the signature validity challenges and denied motions requesting rehearings. The court also rejected the ballot language challenges; however, the plaintiffs can request rehearings.

After the 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 before an election for a state question to appear on a ballot. Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said August 29 (70 days before the general election) was the deadline to formally certify measures for the ballot. Additionally, the deadline to print and mail absentee voters is 45 days before the general election, which is September 24.

Proponents filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court to expedite the ballot title verification process and include the measure on the November 2022 ballot, arguing that “The new [signature verification] 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.”

On September 21, 2022, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that proponents “have no clear legal right and [elections officials] have no plain legal duty to put SQ 820 on the November 8, 2022, general election ballot” unless it has met all statutory requirements and that “SQ 820 cannot be printed on ballots in time to comply with the deadline for mailing ballots to absentee voters.”

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.