The story of the “yes” vote on Oklahoma’s medical marijuana ballot measure was one of grassroots versus big money. And in this round, David beat Goliath.
On June 26, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788 to legalize use, possession and cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes by a sizable margin of 57.9 percent to 43.1 percent.
New campaign finance reports received this week by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission revealed that the two “No” political action committees (PACs) heavily outraised and outspent the two “Yes” PACs.
Supporters took in just $176,577.99 in cash donations, compared to the $1,260,600.00 raised by opponents.
The pro-PACs had a secret weapon: Additional in-kind contributions of $133,684. The main “No” PAC didn’t report a single dollar of in-kind donations, but even counting donated services, supporters had far fewer resources overall.
With 507,582 “yes” votes and 385,176 “no” votes on Election Day, the “Yes” PACs had to raise only 35 cents in cash donations per vote (or 61 cents per vote, if in-kind donations are included). The “No” PACs raised $3.27 per vote, nearly ten times the amount medical cannabis backers had to take in to get their voters to the polls.
This is a sharp contrast to previous marijuana ballot measure campaigns in other states in which supporters have usually heavily outraised and outspent opponents.
This year in Oklahoma, pro-medical-marijuana forces also received far more individual donations, whereas opponents relied on a smaller number of contributions from monied interests.
The main pro-PAC, Vote Yes On 788, registered on December 7, 2017 and got a head-start on fundraising and campaigning, raising $31,279.82 in the first three months of 2018, half of that in in-kind contributions. Their biggest donor by far was New Health Solutions Oklahoma, with a cash infusion of $130,000 and in-kind donations of legal services, office space, t-shirt printing, printing and fundraisers totaling $90,903.
The Drug Policy Reform Network Of Oklahoma donated $300 to the “Yes” PAC in 2018. The remaining donations were all from individuals. In six months, the committee received $43,735 from 181 individual donors, with an average donation of $242. The largest individual donor gave $2,493.
The “Yes” PAC spent $6,393 in the first three months of 2018 to get out the word about the vote in old-school grassroots efforts including yard signs, flyers, stickers, buttons, shipments to volunteers and a highway sign. From April to the end of June, they spent $165,976 on similar items, and added in professional campaign tactics like surveys, electronic billboards, campaign management, phone banking and radio ads.
The main “No” PAC, SQ 788 Is Not Medical, didn’t even register until May 15, 2018, about 10 weeks before the vote. Their corporate donors contributed $1,181,925 to the losing effort. These included several oil and gas heavy hitters: Newfield Exploration and Devon Energy ($100,000 each), Cimarex Energy Co. ($75,000), ConocoPhillips and Gulfport Energy ($50,000 each), Oge Energy Corp, Chesapeake Energy and Phillips 66 ($25,000 each). Three banks also ponied up: Arvest ($25,000), IBC $20,000) and Bancfirst ($10,000). Communication giant Cox tossed in $25,000.
Non-profit organizations that supported the “No” PAC included the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chambers of Commerce ($190,000 and $25,000 respectively), the Chickasaw Nation ($100,000) and national prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana ($10,000). The Oklahoma State Medical Association and Hospital Association and also pitched in, to the tune of $75,000 and $25,000, respectively.
Opponents had individual donations from just 14 people totaling $78,550, or an average of $5,611. The largest individual donor, the retired President of Mercedes Benz of Oklahoma, gave $50,000.
The “No” PAC poured more than $100,000 into mailings and over $1 million into media buys of television, print and radio. Given that the media buy included a television ad that said, “State Question 788 is not about medical marijuana… Why could anyone get it without a specific medical condition?” it’s possible that the ad did more to help get out the “Yes” vote from people who support broader reforms. The question did not set limits on physicians as to what qualifying conditions were eligible.
The “Vote Yes on 788” PAC received $35,000 in-kind for web development and social media, and 41,500 people have followed Yes on 788’s Facebook Group.
Neither of the “No” PACs bothered to create a website. SQ 788 Is Not Medical spent $15,000 on social media services, though no Facebook or Twitter accounts seem to exist. The spend included $10,000 to an organization called Student Development Institute, which also runs the Facebook page “Worth the Wait” for an abstinence/chastity ring non-profit.
A small anti-PAC, Oklahomans Against 788, raised $250 in 2018, plus $505.92 in-kind for a P.O. box, copies, office supplies and gas. All of the donations came from the two people who founded the PAC, and all of the expenses went to filing fee to create the PAC, plus bank fees and mileage reimbursement.
Another pro-PAC, Oklahomans For Health SQ 788, registered on November 21, 2017. The group, which helped get the question on the ballot, raised just $250 in 4th quarter 2017 and nothing in 2018.
Following the passage of the ballot measure, its backers were dismayed by the way the Oklahoma State Department of Health took up implementing regulations. The Department initially proposed requiring pharmacists at cannabis dispensaries, banning smokeable products and requiring women patients to take pregnancy tests, which if positive would prevent them from receiving medical cannabis.
Under pressure from supporters, the department last week walked back those restrictions. The director of the Board of Pharmacy was also fired over bribery allegations.
Approval of the medical marijuana ballot initiative marked the second time in recent years that Oklahoma voters surprised state lawmakers and law enforcement by approving a drug policy reform measure. In 2016, they passed state question 780, making possession of any drug a misdemeanor, by a wide margin: 58 percent to 42 percent.
Meanwhile, a group collecting signatures to get state question 797, a full marijuana legalization measure, on the ballot in November says they have reached their goal, though it is unclear for now if a sufficient number of the signatures they have garnered will turn out to be valid.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization
Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is calling for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of opioid possession.
In a criminal justice reform plan released on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate laid out a vision for ending the drug war, which he said has contributed to mass incarceration and is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
“Tom believes we must end the failed War on Drugs. Based on the flawed idea that incarceration is the answer to addiction, federal and state elected officials passed severe sentencing laws that encouraged incarceration for low-level drug offenses,” the plan states. “Unfortunately, communities of color were and continue to be disproportionately affected and targeted by these laws, even when other ethnicities were committing the same drug crimes at the same rates.”
Today @TomSteyer announced a new criminal justice plan to:
– Reform the juvenile system
– Improve prison conditions
– Redirect funds to education
– Eliminate cash bail
– Release more rehabilitated people
– End the war on drugs
And much more! 👉 https://t.co/3VYRw7ioXB
— TeamTom 🌎 (@TomHQ) January 24, 2020
There are six proposals in the drug war section, including legalizing cannabis and expunging prior marijuana convictions, ending mandatory minimum sentences and empowering judges to use more discretion in non-violent drug cases, diverting people convicted of drug offenses to treatment or drug court, ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, sealing the records of certain drug convictions and decriminalizing opioids while investing $75 billion in treatment programs and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable.
Steyer specifically endorsed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions and set aside tax revenue to support communities most impacted by the drug war.
“Policing marijuana use has led to too many unfair incarcerations and predominantly impacted communities of color,” the plan says. It also criticizes then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s 2018 move on “repealing leniency given to states for marijuana laws.”
Today, I'm meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals to talk about transforming the criminal justice system through police accountability, ending cash bail, providing adequate funding to re-entry programs, and so much more. pic.twitter.com/m9lDEKWwwU
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) January 23, 2020
“A Steyer Administration will also open equitable pathways to banking for marijuana businesses,” it continues. “The federal government—including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—should not be a barrier to marijuana businesses receiving support from their local banks.”
“Incarceration is not the answer to addiction, and low-level drug offenses should not carry a severe sentence. Tom will legalize marijuana, let states pass their own policies, expunge past records, and direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry. Tom’s administration will end the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize opioid possession, and invest $75 billion to address the opioid crisis.”
The opioid decriminalization proposal is similar to that of entrepreneur Andrew Yang, another 2020 candidate who said removing criminal penalties for possessing the substance is necessary in order to help get people into treatment and curb the opioid crisis. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have gone further, calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession and, in Gabbard’s case, also the legalization and regulation of illicit drugs.
“Tom supports decriminalizing small amounts of opioid possession for personal use at the federal level,” the plan states. “He will address the opioid crisis through $75 billion in new funding over ten years to resource state and local treatment programs, hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce laws that end the illicit distribution and sale of opioids.”
This is a notable development for Steyer, who hasn’t discussed drug policy reform as much as many other candidates in the race and whose views on decriminalization of substances beyond marijuana were previously unknown.
Last year, Steyer said he supported creating a national referendum process so that Americans can made decisions about a wide range of policy issues, including cannabis legalization.
He also previously discussed his support for ending marijuana prohibition and providing the industry with access to banking, saying that he and his wife wanted to provide financial services to minority- and women-owned cannabis firms through their community bank, but federal prohibition means the business would be put at risk if they did that.
Steyer’s new plan also calls for juvenile justice reform, ending cash bail, banning facial recognition technology in policing, demilitarizing law enforcement, improving prison conditions and eliminating the death penalty, among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests
The decision to back away from pursuing criminal charges against people with small amounts of pot comes after state lawmakers last year legalized hemp in a way that threw marijuana prosecution into chaos.
The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.
The resolution directing Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. Of about 20 people who spoke on the resolution, only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was against it.
The council’s resolution states that it stems directly from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp. Last summer, following a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Joint Effort: #ATXCouncil takes steps to eliminate the use of arrest or other enforcement action for low-level cannabis-related possession offenses + ensure City resources are focused on citizens’ public safety priorities. View the draft resolution: https://t.co/qNJ6L2ZPjJ. pic.twitter.com/rdwiLjx0w8
— City of Austin (@austintexasgov) January 23, 2020
All of a sudden, some district attorneys were dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and not accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if something was marijuana anymore. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have dropped by more than half. And numerous Texas prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.
Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.
Even in places where police don’t have or aren’t spending funds on such testing and new cases aren’t being accepted by prosecutors, people are still being cited or arrested. They are sometimes taken to jail but then released with no charges being pursued. Austin police said this month that they still arrest or cite people who are suspected of possessing marijuana.
This resolution changes that, directing the city to get as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession.
The measure prohibits spending city funds on testing in low-level possession cases, and it directs police not to arrest or cite people in such cases — unless there is a safety concern — if they know the district attorney will automatically reject the charges or testing won’t be approved. It clarifies that lab testing can be used for suspected felonies or when the cannabis is not for personal use, like trafficking cases. A revised version also specifies that the measure will not affect toxicology testing.
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