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Oklahoma Enters Home Stretch in Bid to Legalize Medical Marijuana

August 26, 2016
Volunteers from Oklahomans for Health set up for the final day of gathering signatures for putting medical marijuana on a state ballot, in front of the Oklahoma state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (Mark Hancock/Journal Record via AP)
Oklahoma has surmounted seemingly impossible odds with a longshot bid to bring medical cannabis to the Sooner State. With only a few more procedural hurdles to go, a proposed legalization initiative is so close that supporters can almost smell it.

It hasn’t been an easy journey, but grassroots advocacy group Oklahomans for Health has notched numerous victories along the way, board member Chip Paul told Leafly.

“It started with just three of us back in 2014, we thought we’d give this a go,” he said. “It was very successful. We weren’t able to get it on the ballot, but it really did change the discussion in Oklahoma.”

This election’s push is going better, but the measure still hasn’t quite secured a spot on November’s ballot. Secretary of State Chris Benge announced this week that the group has submitted 67,761 verified signatures, surpassing the necessary 65,987 signatures required to earn a spot on the ballot. But the fight is far from over.

The next hurdle was erected by Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who rewrote the initiative’s ballot title. Oklahomans for Health wasn’t pleased with the rewrite.

“The attorney general took the description and changed it to highlight the most controversial parts of the language,” Paul said, clearly frustrated. He’s concerned prospective voters will be put off by the severe language and vote the measure down. “We are going to appeal it, go through the whole process and take this to the Supreme Court,” he said.

Asked whether the group would move forward with the initiative even if the state Supreme Court rules to keep the revised title, Paul was unequivocal.

“Of course we will,” he replied. “We’ve come this far. We just have to find the right strategy to move forward.”

Throughout the arduous process, Paul said, at the heart of this campaign have been a group of committed, passionate volunteers.

“The real story here is our incredible grassroots movement. Do you want to know how much money we spent on this campaign? Less than $35,000,” he said. “That’s under 50 cents a signature! We didn’t hire anyone. We didn’t have paid signature gatherers.”

“All of these signatures were gathered by volunteers, on their own time, standing out in the hot sun,” he added. “Why? Because they care.”

Oklahomans for Health will remain laser focused on the issue in coming weeks, which Paul said have the potential to make or break the campaign.

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Oklahoma chapter, said the broad grassroots support signals a shifting stance on cannabis in the state. “The successful grassroots effort by Oklahomans across the political spectrum is a testament to the overwhelming support for rethinking Oklahoma’s prohibition against medical marijuana,” he said.

Aware of the struggles that the campaign has encountered along the way, Kiesel encouraged supporters to consider the impact their efforts has already had, and will continue to have, on Oklahoma voters.

“Whether timing allows this proposal to reach the ballot in November or pushes the proposal to a later date,” he said, “make no mistake about it: Oklahoma is one step closer to ending an illogical and harmful policy that stands between patients and medical marijuana.”