As Oklahomans prepare to vote on a marijuana legalization initiative next month, the campaign behind the measure is touting a new endorsement from a political strategist who previously supported two competing cannabis reform proposals that failed to make the ballot.
Thursday’s announcement by the Yes on 820 campaign was intended to build unity among legalization proponents, who have sparred over conflicting views on how marijuana should be regulated. Instead, it appears to have aggravated tensions in Oklahoma’s advocacy community.
Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA) Co-Founder @mastermanOKC helped push two other legalization initiatives, but now he says it’s time for the cannabis industry and activists to unite behind SQ 820. Read his full statement here: https://t.co/Mu4sIzEvT1 #Yeson820 pic.twitter.com/GzqmSOT13u
— Yes on 820 Campaign (@YesOn820) February 23, 2023
“This post by Yes on 820 is misleading, inaccurate and a testimony to the power money has over the unprincipled,” Jed Green, director of the group Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA), said on social media on Thursday. “While ORCA respects everyone’s right to their opinion, this blatant misrepresentation of our organization to deceive voters into believing we support SQ 820 is totally unacceptable.”
The Yes on 820 post in question accurately identifies the advocate, Kris Masterman, as a co-founder of ORCA and a former advocate for State Questions 818 and 819, alternative legalization and medical cannabis reform ballot measures that ORCA began pushing for in 2021. SQ 820, meanwhile, was led by a different group: Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML), with support from the national New Approach PAC.
ORCA and some other legalization advocates have criticized SQ 820 for its out-of-state funding and disagreement over certain provisions. Green told Marijuana Moment a year ago that he felt the New Approach-backed initiative is “just the wrong approach for Oklahoma.”
Neither of the two ORCA-backed proposals, however, gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Masterman, for his part, said in a press release about his endorsement of SQ 820 that it’s time for advocates to come together and pass the legalization proposal that actually made it to the ballot.
“As a former proponent of State Questions 818 and 819, I realize that many of us in the cannabis community had similar goals but different methods,” Masterman said. “Now is the time to unite behind SQ 820, vote yes on March 7, and ensure that Oklahoma is able to take the next big step forward. We can’t succeed as a community if we allow yesterday’s divisions to impede today’s progress.”
Green told Marijuana Moment on Friday that he believes the announcement “implies that our organization supports 820.”
“Kris is not part of our organization any longer,” Green said. “Both he and [Yes on 820] know that.”
The ORCA director also claimed Masterman was only a co-founder of the group insofar as he was a “paid political operative.”
“His only involvement in cannabis advocacy was agreeing to be a name on SQ 818 / 819,” Green said. “The frustration here is the implication, which is that ORCA supports 820.”
On his LinkedIn profile, Masterman describes himself as a longtime political operative and the managing director of Masterman Strategies.
Green previously filed legal challenges against OSML’s proposal, arguing that, among other things, the measure violated a single-subject rule for ballot proposals. The state Supreme Court rejected that claim as well as a subsequent one in which Green claimed that the initiative’s ballot title is misleading.
Delays in signature verification by state officials meant SQ 820 missed last November’s ballot, so Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called for a special election to be held next month.
The governor opposes adult-use legalization, although he did say last year that he thinks the federal government should end prohibition to “solve a lot of issues from all these different states” that have legalized cannabis. Stitt also said last year that he thought Oklahoma voters were misled into approving an earlier medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2018.
The Yes on 820 campaign, which recently launched a TV ad about the ballot measure, estimates that broader adult-use legalization could bring the state $434 million in tax revenue between 2024 and 2028. Legal cannabis products would be subject to an excise tax of 15 percent.