BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
The drive, while not legalizing possession, would lower punishment from a maximum of a year incarceration and $1,200 fine to not more than a $500 fine.
By lowering the punishment, possession becomes tantamount to a speeding ticket. The reclassification would also remove onsite arrest from the equation, but only for “possession” of marijuana.
Depending on how much traction this and other planned petitions gain, these efforts could well prove to be wedge issues in several upcoming elections.
Reform OKC has 90 days to gather the 6,200 signatures required to place the penalty reduction question on the ballot. If the drive is successful, voters may decide the reduction question either at a special election or during the June 24 party primary election.
Reform OKC is headed by Brittany Guest and Mark Faulk. Faulk has previously announced his candidacy for House District 88 seat being vacated by Rep. Kay Floyd. Floyd has announced her candidacy for state Senate District 46 seat being vacated by Sen. Al McAffrey, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in central Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District.
The petition does not address related marijuana issues such as paraphernalia, according to Paul Faulk, attorney for the group and brother of Mark Faulk. Should the issue reach the ballot and pass, Attorney Faulk said, the city would have to rethink those issues and devise municipal codes that would relate to marijuana while not giving a pass to crimes involving hard drugs.
The petition is the latest step in an increasingly active effort to legalize medical and general use marijuana across the state. SB 2016, introduced by Sen. Constance Johnson, D-OKC, would have opened the door to legalize medical marijuana. The bill stalled in the Senate due to strong conservative Republican opposition.
A poll conducted last year by the conservative polling group Sooner Poll showed 72.1% of Oklahomans favored legalizing medical marijuana. The same poll indicated strong support for rolling back penalties for possession and possible legalization of small amounts for personal use.
The Legislature has remained unmoved by these numbers and lobbying efforts to reduce penalties or legalize medical use.
The Oklahoma City effort is not the only petition in the offing. The city of Tulsa may also have a similar petition on its ballot during the 2014 election cycle.
An organizational meeting to draft a similar petition for Tulsa is slated for 2:30 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at the Rudisill Library. According to organizer Frank Grove, the meeting will be to gather citizen input and establish a volunteer base.
According to Norma Sapp, state director of NORML, the longstanding national organization for the legalization of marijuana, groups akin to the Oklahoma City and Tulsa movement have begun forming in 21 counties.
The petition seekers also have the advantage that by restructuring municipal codes the number of signatures required are dictated by local voter turn out which has been very low in recent elections.
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK, and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, The Last Day of the War, is available at https://www.createspace.com/3804081 or at www.richardfricker.com.