Hope for marijuana legal reform remains despite failed pot question

OKLAHOMA CITY — Although Oklahoma voters quashed an attempt to legalize recreational marijuana on Tuesday, support for criminal justice reforms related to low-level cannabis crimes may be growing.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond says the time is right for a discussion about expunging marijuana convictions for nonviolent offenders.

But a Republican lawmaker who has filed numerous cannabis bills said the Oklahoma Legislature needs to prioritize changes to the state’s medical marijuana program over criminal justice reforms.

In Tuesday’s election, all 77 counties rejected State Question 820, which would have legalized recreational marijuana for people age 21 and older. But the question also included criminal justice reforms that would have allowed nonviolent offenders to have certain marijuana convictions reversed and expunged.

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Drummond




“While Attorney General Drummond is pleased with the decision voters made in rejecting SQ 820, he believes there is a worthwhile discussion to be had about record expungement for marijuana possession and consumption,” spokesman Phil Bacharach said in a statement.

The attorney general aims to find a solution that balances the fundamental need for public safety with Oklahomans’ support for giving second chances to nonviolent drug offenders, which was evident when voters approved a previous state question that implemented criminal justice reforms, Bacharach said.

At an election watch party Tuesday night, members of the Yes on 820 campaign said they would continue advocating for criminal justice reforms. Michelle Tilley, the group’s campaign manager, said the fight now shifts to the state Capitol.

“I challenge our Legislature: This is in your hands now,” she said. “I challenge our governor to please take this seriously.”

Although Gov. Kevin Stitt opposed SQ 820, he has been a staunch proponent of criminal justice reforms.

Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform Executive Director Damion Shade said it’s unlikely that the Legislature will try to enact marijuana law reforms this year, but he said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that lawmakers could take up the issue next year.

During a gubernatorial debate last year, Stitt admitted to trying marijuana when he was younger. Stitt broke the law but wasn’t convicted of a crime, Shade said.

“What I think we can come together around is there are lots of poor kids from Altus, Oklahoma, and north Tulsa who want the same chance that the governor got,” he said. “They used recreational marijuana illegally when they were kids, often when they were 18, 19 and 20, and they still have those convictions hanging over them.”

Shade said he envisions reforms that would allow for people convicted of marijuana possession with the intent to distribute or other low-level cannabis distribution charges to seek expungement of their convictions. New reforms would work hand in hand with the clean slate law passed last year that will allow for the nearly automatic expungement of many low-level crimes, including simple possession of marijuana, he said.







Recreational marijuana effort fails

Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, said Tuesday’s election results show that Oklahomans are concerned about the state’s marijuana black market and want changes to the “out-of-control, lackadaisical approach to the regulation of marijuana.” The average Oklahoman isn’t concerned about criminal justice reform, he said.

“I think it’s a good thing for the industry to see that all 77 counties are frustrated,” Fetgatter said. “Even some of them need to step back and take a look at what they’re doing and how they’re handling the industry.”







State Question 820 vote totals

Jed Green, the director of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, said a lot of medical marijuana proponents are pleased with the outcome of the vote.

If SQ 820 had passed, it would have prompted lawmakers to pass a flood of knee-jerk reaction bills regulating recreational cannabis, he said.

Now the Legislature can focus on fixing the issues it’s already identified with the medical program, Green said.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority spokeswoman Porsha Riley said the agency’s mission hasn’t changed as a result of the election.

She said she can’t predict whether the agency will see a surge in medical marijuana patient applications due to the failure of SQ 820, but she said the OMMA will be prepared if that does occur.

“We’re working hard on the important job of regulating Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry,” she said. “Our top priority is to promote public health and safety through regulation and enforcement of responsible medical cannabis practices.”

Anna Codutti contributed to this story.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to pardon thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law is drawing praise from activists and advocacy groups. The administration has taken a dramatic step toward decriminalizing the drug and addressing charging practices that disproportionately impact people of color. “Pardoning and removing permanent federal records for simple marijuana possession. We’re talking about folks like me who literally had half a joint on them. That’s something that really can follow you the rest of your life,” said Chris Goldstein who has been an advocate with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, better known as NORML. Goldstein himself had a federal conviction for a very small amount of marijuana, “half a joint,” he said. “There is no other way to clear a federal marijuana possession record other than a presidential pardon,” he said. Biden’s move also covers thousands convicted of the crime in the District of Columbia. And he is also calling on governors to issue similar pardons for those convicted of state marijuana offenses, which reflect the vast majority of marijuana possession cases.



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