Legalized Pot, More Beer?

Battle rages over pot wording, new beer law begins

As Oklahoma liberalizes its liquor laws, proponents of a proposal to legalize marijuana are objecting to a summary of a bill that will appear on an upcoming ballot.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote the following for the title of State Question 788, which reads, “This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified. Possession and use of marijuana is authorized through medical marijuana license that is valid for two years, rather than by prescription. An Oklahoma board certified physician must recommend the license using the same accepted standards for recommending other medications, and must sign the application for the license. The State Department Health must issue license to an applicant who: submits valid application, is eighteen years or older, and an Oklahoma resident.

“Applications for individuals under eighteen must be signed by two physicians and by parent or legal guardian. The Department also issues seller, grower, packaging, transportation, research and caregiver licenses to those who meet certain minimal requirements. A 7 percent state tax is imposed on retail sales of marijuana. Unlicensed possession by an individual who claims to have a medical condition is punishable by a fine not exceeding $400.

“Local government cannot use zoning laws to prevent the opening of a retail marijuana store. This measure does not change federal law, which makes use, sale, and growth of marijuana illegal.”

Backers of legalized marijuana insist that the bill only authorizes medical use of marijuana and they may file a protest over Pruitt’s language, which could cause a delay and keep the proposition off the November 8 general election ballot.

There is a federal law against possession of marijuana but The U.S. Department of Justice, under President Obama, has a policy of nonenforcement in states like Colorado where recreational use of marijuana is approved under state law.

Backers of the state question got 67,761 valid signatures on a petition to get it on a ballot.

The liberal Oklahoma Supreme Court could decide if the ballot title must be rewritten. Also in August, the court rewrote two ballot titles written by Pruitt concerning criminal statute changes.

The proposed changes would let a medical doctor recommend a “medical marijuana license” for patients age 25 or older. Those patients with a license could legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana.

Two years ago, Pruitt and the Nebraska attorney general petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to sue Colorado because its legalization of recreational marijuana was putting a financial strain in Oklahoma and Nebraska. It was rejected but it is on appeal.

“I commend the attorneys in my office for their diligent work to complete this ballot title in an efficient manner,” Pruitt said. “While my office has done its part by preparing the ballot title well before the September 1 deadline, there are still steps remaining in order for the question to be placed on a ballot.

“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. Even with expedited efforts of both the Secretary of State’s office to count the signatures and my office to write the ballot title, the state is running up against deadlines imposed by this process. 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.”

After the Attorney General’s Office submits the substitute ballot title to the Secretary of State, it must be published and opponents must have ten business days to object to the ballot title based on the validity or number of signatures or a challenge to the ballot title.  The governor cannot issue the proclamation placing the initiative petition on the ballot until the timeline for objections and protests has passed.

Oklahoma has already taken one step to liberalize its liquor laws and make beer and wine more accessible.

Senate Bill 424, which took effect in August, lets local breweries sell all of their products containing alcohol on site.

In the waning days of the legislative session, SB 424 was passed and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin. The Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission asked for direction from Attorney General Scott Pruitt on the wording of the new law. The agency interpreted SB 424 to mean breweries could sell strong beer only for consumption off premises.

Pruitt’s opinion upheld the legislative intent of the bill, which lets licensed brewers to sell beer the brewer produces to drinkers for consumption by the consumer both on and off premises.

Also, refrigerated hard beer and wine will be available in Oklahoma should voters approve State Question 792 on November 8.

The constitutional amendment to liberalize liquor laws is being promoted by groceries and convenience stores, including QuikTrip and Reasor’s, plus the Tulsa Chamber. It is opposed by many liquor stores and by those who think raising the availability of alcohol will add to Oklahoma’s social ills.