OK: Medical Marijuana Question Doubtful For November Ballot

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Oklahoma City – Advocates for medical marijuana are convinced limited use of the drug will be allowed by Oklahoma voters this November.

That is, if voters actually see a question on the ballot.

Doubt is growing that petitioners have enough time to navigate a sometimes lengthy process – which includes verifying 66,000 signatures, a review by the state Supreme Court and additional legal requirements – in time to get the question included.

Gov. Mary Fallin, by law, must finalize statewide questions to be printed on the ballot no later than Aug. 30, which is less than two weeks away.

Supporters of the medical marijuana measure, hampered by delays and organizational issues, turned in tens of thousands of signatures just last week. That doesn’t leave much time to check all of the necessary requirements.

“This is a very delicate process,” said Bryan Dean, spokesman for Oklahoma State Election Board. “You certainly can’t push it back by weeks.”

But pushing back the process, though maybe not by weeks, is just what medical marijuana advocates are proposing. Joe Dorman, a former lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate from Rush Springs, said his group, Oklahomans for Health, may sue the state to stall the process to ensure the measure gets on this year’s ballot.

“We want this taken down to the wire,” he said. “We want to make sure things are not rushed to keep this off the ballot. If they work efficiently through every step of the process, there should be plenty of time.”

Dorman contends pushing the process back a “few days” shouldn’t be a problem.

Dean says it is.

“They should have started circulating sooner,” he said. “They did this on the very last possible day.”

The election board has long had an Aug. 26 deadline to finalize the ballot, said Dean, in order to ensure compliance with a federal law that requires Oklahomans serving in the military or living overseas receive ballots postmarked at least 45 days prior to the election.

“There’s no way we can wait weeks to get ballots out,” he said.

Dorman, though, said the state should prepare two ballots – one with the medical marijuana question, the other without – and send the correct one to the printer when the state finally sorts out his group’s petition.

“I certainly don’t want to see politics come into play by individuals who might not want this on the ballot this year,” he said.

The group’s initiative would leave it to doctors to determine when to prescribe medical marijuana, Dorman said. Elsewhere marijuana extracts are used to treat post traumatic stress, multiple sclerosis, cancers, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease and pain.

Amy Canton, a manager in the executive legislative division of the secretary of state’s office, said politics are not an issue.

She said her staff works as fast as it can. This year, the division has been processing numerous citizen-led proposals, from one that calls for teacher raises to another calling for criminal justice reform.

The office has hired more signature-counters. The nine-person team – most are temporary workers – spends its days hand-counting and reviewing signatures.

“It’s pretty tedious,” she said.

Canton said the office verifies petitions on a first come, first served basis.

Complicating the timing, the medical marijuana group turned in two petitions. The first calls for a ballot question to alter the way citizen petitions are conducted by extending the signature-gathering window from 90 days to a year. That measure was submitted first, so the staff will spend a week reviewing those signatures.

Only next week will it turn to the medical marijuana initiative. It expects to finish the count by Aug. 26.

The petition, if approved, would advance to the state Supreme Court for review, and be published in newspapers before a 10-day window in which the public may challenge it.

“If it were me, personally, I would have filed long before the election,” said Canton, adding it takes time to clear all of those legal requirements.

Even if Dorman’s group fails to get the question on the ballot, it doesn’t mean its efforts have been for naught.

Provided the question meets all the legal requirements, Gov. Mary Fallin could order a special election or put it to voters during the next general election in two years.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medical Marijuana Question Doubtful For November Ballot
Author: Janelle Stecklein
Contact: (580) 233-6600
Photo Credit: Ed Andrieski
Website: Enid News