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Oklahoma marijuana legalization questions heading to ballot

Marijuana at the Sacred Herb dispensary in Sapulpa, Okla.
Beth Wallis / StateImpact Oklahoma
Marijuana at the Sacred Herb dispensary in Sapulpa, Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Plans to fully legalize marijuana can proceed to the signature-gathering stage, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled, paving the way for two more cannabis plans seeking voter approval.

The high court’s ruling late Tuesday comes amid a marijuana boom in the Sooner State after voters in 2018 approved the most liberal medical marijuana program in the U.S. Nearly 10% of Oklahoma’s 4 million residents have qualified for a medical-use card, by far the highest percentage in the country.

Supporters of the two separate proposals still need to gather enough signatures to put the plans on the ballot for voters. The plans approved Tuesday, State Question 819 and a companion State Question 818, would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to protect the right of residents age 21 and older to use marijuana. It’s part of a nationwide push to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults, which 18 states and the District of Columbia have already approved.

Because the two proposals seek to amend the constitution, supporters will have to gather more signatures, about 178,000 in 90 days, for them to qualify for the ballot.

“Whether we’ll get on the November ballot this year remains to be seen,” said Jed Green, a longtime Oklahoma cannabis activist behind the plans. “We’re going to push, push and push to get it done, and hopefully we do, but ... we’ll get our signatures.”

A separate adult-use proposal, State Question 820, already has been cleared by the high court and because it would only amend state statute, requires only about 95,000 signatures. Supporters of that plan can begin gathering signatures on May 3.

Supporters of both proposals say growers in Oklahoma’s booming cannabis industry have an eye toward Texas, the nation’s largest prohibition state with 29 million residents. New Mexico, which borders both Oklahoma and Texas, already legalized adult use and topped $2 million in sales during its first day of sales earlier this month.

“We’ve seen success that the tribes have had with casinos along the Texas border,” said Michelle Tilley, an organizer behind SQ 820. “There’s a national market already.”