OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - An effort to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma likely won't be included on the November ballot because advocates won't be able to collect enough petition signatures ahead of the deadline, the organizer of the initiative said Friday.
Volunteers for Tulsa-based Oklahomans for Health delivered boxes of signed petitions to the Oklahoma Secretary of State's Office. They have until Saturday to gather the signatures of more than 155,000 registered Oklahoma voters to authorize a statewide referendum on the issue.
But Chip Paul, who filed the initiative petition in April, said thousands of signatures collected by volunteers will not be turned in because they do not meet the format requirements of state law and likely would be invalidated during the signature counting process.
"We're going to be short," said Paul, the owner of a Tulsa vapor shop. He said the signatures of as many as 30,000 voters were collected on the wrong kind of paper or paper that does not meet the margin requirements of state law.
Although organizers probably will fall short of the signature requirement, Paul said the group plans to remain active and will launch a new initiative petition drive to authorize medical marijuana, which is already legal in more than 20 states.
"We've been able to change the discussion in Oklahoma," Paul said. "We've just begun."
Paul said the petition drive has led to the registration of thousands of new voters who needed to be registered in order to sign the petition. He also said he believes the petition drive is responsible for Gov. Mary Fallin's decision to support legalization of the medical use of an oil derived from cannabis.
On Wednesday, Fallin asked lawmakers to support the legalization of cannabidiol, which is an oil derived from the marijuana plant. Research suggests that the oil, which can only be taken orally and is non-psychoactive, may be effective to treat toddlers with rare conditions that cause seizures and strokes.
Fallin, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November, defeated two opponents in the June 24 GOP primary who have made their support for legalization of marijuana an issue in the campaign. Fallin had said she opposed even the medicinal use of the drug.
"It's very significant," Paul said. "The governor was a hard no on everything. We're obviously very encouraged by that."
Paul has said that in spite of the state's conservative reputation, he believes more residents are open to the idea of the medicinal uses of the drug and do not want government infringing on their personal decisions.
Officials at the secretary of state's office said it will take about two weeks to count the signatures and prepare a report for the state Supreme Court, which will decide whether there is a sufficient number to authorize an election.
If approved by voters, marijuana would be classified as an herbal drug regulated by the Oklahoma Department of Health, and doctors would be able to prescribe it for a variety of medical conditions. Medical marijuana would be subject to a 7 percent sales tax with proceeds funding the agency's regulatory office.
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