TULSA, Okla. — A petition to legalize Oklahoma medical marijuana is unlikely to go before voters in November because advocates say they will challenge the attorney general’s rewording of the ballot title —a legal process certain to push the measure beyond the general election.
But state officials say it’ll be delayed because supporters of State Question 788 didn’t submit the required 65,987 voter signatures to qualify with enough buffer time for legal challenges and for the state’s Election Board to print and send ballots to counties, military members and overseas voters.
If approved by voters, the measure would permit doctors to recommend a patient of at least 25 years old for a state-issued medical marijuana license. Patients would be allowed to legally possess up to 3 ounces of the drug.
Following Oklahoma medical marijuana news & Election 2016
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Attorney General Scott Pruitt submitted rewritten language of the ballot title Thursday, saying it didn’t identify any qualifying medical conditions for doctors to recommend a license, among other things.
“We are dealing with processes established in both federal and state election law for initiatives proposed by the people that require specific procedures to be followed,” Pruitt said in the Oklahoma case. “It’s important for the people of Oklahoma to know — regardless of the substance of the state question — the signatures were not submitted with enough time to allow this process to be played out completely.”
In 2014, Pruitt and Nebraska’s attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to sue Colorado after recreational marijuana use became legal there, arguing the drug has put a strain on law enforcement in the neighboring states. The high court rejected the request earlier this year, but the attorneys general have asked the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to join a Colorado case brought by recreational marijuana opponents.
Chip Paul, a spokesman for the group behind the ballot measure, Oklahomans for Health, claimed Pruitt “cherry-picked” through the proposed language to “only provide items in the title which would cause fear or uncertainty.”
Paul conceded that his group’s planned legal protest, which must come within 10 days after the ballot is published in several newspapers, will push the measure beyond November. The Oklahoma Supreme Court also is still determining whether the number of signatures is sufficient to be placed on a ballot, said Michael McNutt, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin.
Even if the measure cleared those two hurdles, there won’t be enough time to print and test the coded ballots and distribute them, state officials said. Federal law requires absentee ballots to be mailed to military members and overseas voters by Sept. 23, and Oklahoma State Election Board spokesman Bryan Dean says it plans to begin sending ballots to the printer Monday.
“We can’t do this overnight,” he said.
The delays mean the state question either could be put to voters in a special election — a $1.2 million cost that appears unlikely in the budget-crunched state — or placed on a statewide election ballot in 2018.
Advocates say that wait means hundreds of patients won’t get treatment they say could save or prolong lives of patients with cancer, seizures or similar conditions.
Norman mother Kelli Dodson says her 12-year-old daughter, Katie, would benefit from the higher potency of medical marijuana. Currently, Katie takes a marijuana derivative called cannabidiol to help control her intense seizures because of a law named in part for her that passed in Oklahoma last year.
“Her cognitive functioning has never been better,” said Dodson, who estimated her daughter’s seizures have lessened by 90 percent due to the cannabidiol, which is mailed to her from Colorado.
“We’re getting to see what the real Katie looks like,” she said.