Feb 27, 2023
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OKLAHOMA CITY — A joint legislative panel passed a bill Monday that would give the Oklahoma State Election Board additional money to conduct the March 7 special election on recreational marijuana.
Meanwhile, a House panel advanced two similar but conflicting bills dealing with election dates.
Voters will go to the polls next week to vote on State Question 820, which asks them whether they want to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Supporters gathered enough signatures to get the question on the ballot.
State voters legalized medical marijuana through a 2018 state question.
Gov. Kevin Stitt scheduled the special election for March 7. Supporters had hoped to get it on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Holding a statewide special election will cost the state more than a million dollars.
Senate Bill 1154 would give the Oklahoma State Election Board an additional $850,000 and allow it to spend more than $300,000 in unspent money from last year's allocations to pay the costs of holding the election.
“It is what a statewide costs, whether it is a special or regular statewide election,” said Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax. “It is generally always in that ballpark. It has been a long time since we have had a statewide special election.”
SB 1154 passed the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget on Monday, and Ziriax said he was pleased that the Oklahoma Legislature was moving quickly on the necessary supplemental appropriation.
Supporters say SQ 820 would safely legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and older. Supporters say its passage would provide revenue to schools, health care organizations and local governments.
The question also would allow for expungement of low-level marijuana criminal records.
The Oklahoma Republican Party Central Committee is asking voters to oppose State Question 820.
In a Monday letter to state committee members, the Oklahoma GOP leaders said: “First, SQ 820 would bind the hands of schools, communities and property owners by restricting fines for smoking marijuana in public and further mandates that landlords must allow tenants to use marijuana — which remains illegal under federal law — on the landlord’s property.”
The letter also notes that the measure would not allow evidence of marijuana use or court restriction of marijuana use in child-custody cases.
In unrelated action, the House Elections Committee advanced two bills dealing with election dates, but only after the intervention of Speaker Pro Tem Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow.
HB 2685, by Rep. Neil Hays, R-Checotah, would limit the dates on which municipalities and other political subdivisions could hold regular elections in odd-numbered years to the second Tuesday in August and the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. It would eliminate December elections and reserve other dates for special elections called by the governor.
HB 1823, by Rep. Sherrie Conley, R-Newcastle, would move municipal, school board and certain other general elections to June and November of odd-numbered years.
Both bills would seem to conflict with most city charters, including Tulsa's, and change all or most municipal elections. The Oklahoma Municipal League, which represents most state cities and towns, opposes both measures.
HB 2685 originally failed on a 4-4 tie, but Hilbert joined the meeting as an ex-officio member during presentation of HB 1823, which passed 6-3 with his help. HB 2685 then passed 5-4 on reconsideration, with Hilbert breaking the tie.
The bills apparently have the backing of at least some county Republican parties that believe changing school board election dates will increase conservative turnout.
Both bills are now eligible to be heard by the full House.