How about some key metrics?
Two hundred thousand Oklahoma voter signatures;
A November 2013 statewide contest;
A million dollar budget for organizing a fateful signature campaign;
One thousand active participants, including a tiny, but super capable management crew, inventive use of social media to organize "seeding" and early wave supporters, some very serious volunteers, several hundred paid signature gathering folks, and a lot of zeal;
A $500,000-$750,000 general election budget.
Ok, context: this is part 3 of a series that I've written on the weed legalization fever that is in fast play nationally and that will surely visit Oklahoma. As readers may know, Colorado and Washington State recently enacted full out marijuana legalization initiatives. And of equal importance, it looks as though the Obama Justice Department is not going to oppose implementation of these new efforts. So the political landscape has changed convulsively on the weed legalization front in the last year in America -- with all the dramatic gains in personal freedom, an end to the ongoing corruption of law that comes from petty marijuana prosecutions, and significant savings in incarceration outlays and wasteful use of law enforcement resources.
Interestingly, Arkansas, where a medical marijuana initiative failed by just two percentage points in November, offers an alluring and surprising statistic: 339,000 people voted for Barack Obama in Arkansas in 2012, but the nearly successful medical marijuana initiative -- which was on the same ballot -- secured almost half a million votes. And while there are some significant historical differences between Oklahoma and Arkansas -- from cultural, economic and political standpoints, the states have a good deal in common.
Assuming that one could secure the signatures required for a Sooner citizen weed initiative, it's vital to understand that referendum campaigns -- and off year elections of every description -- garner fewer voters than general elections. So some rudimentary computer modeling suggests that the total turnout for a weed initiative is likely to be a relatively modest number. We might expect the total turnout for a "standalone" to be on the order of 400,000 voters statewide. In contrast, there were just over 1.3 million voters who participated in the 2012 presidential campaign -- this is a strategic part of a possible contest environment that makes a weed "win" in Oklahoma much more likely than most political observers might perceive.
I have a host of old friends in the political consulting business here and elsewhere. And I've been a political consultant -- mostly engaged in polling/survey research, analytics, and issue/strategy work for a couple of congressional candidates and for several mayoral contenders over the course of the last 10 years. So it would be fair to say that I've had some deep professional political involvement -- but I've never been involved in a statewide referendum campaign in Oklahoma. So I sought some additional insight into how a weed legalization initiative could be organized and what kind of resources would be required to prevail. The "contest deal sheet" figures at the top of this post come, in big measure, from a wide ranging conversation I had recently with a leading, in-state political consultant. This fellow, a friend, is a Republican (unlike me) who's been involved in two important statewide referendum efforts and a bevy of congressional, gubernatorial, and local contests. He talked to me freely, but only on background for this essay. Much of what I've outlined here comes from my exchange with him and some of my other political buddies here in town.
Basically, it looks like the Oklahoma Legislature will never take up on the whole issue of weed law -- despite a dogged, multi-year campaign by Okla. Senator Connie Johnson and others to get a real conversation going. But there is a grand sign that the general public in Oklahoma is open to the idea of at least voting on legalizing medical marijuana: 54.4 percent are for it, and only 33.6 percent against same, according to statewide statewide SoonerPoll in 2010.
My state referendum friend/consultant believes that the 90 day run-up allowed for a signature gathering effort in a statewide referendum campaign here is a daunting management challenge. It's not the kind of thing that can be organized out of a garage.
But given the big latent support that appears to exist here for some kind of marijuana initiative, it would not be the most difficult statewide "change" campaign ever mounted in the state: that honor would go to the serial fight for liquor by the drink, a huge struggle, hobbled significantly by Oklahoma's fundamentalist religious community and their fevered opposition to alcohol consumption.
An Oklahoma medical marijuana/legalization initiative would have the benefit of the headwinds produced by the national movement and by the very real prospect of getting some budgetary relief from the enormous incarceration expenses that Oklahomans dole out every year. There's also the strong prospect that a weed initiative would resonate strongly with the stout libertarian impulse that's a big part of Oklahoma's political and social culture.
My buddy and I concluded that Oklahoma's super-active, eclectic music community and the hundreds of thousands of fans associated with it are key assets in a successful weed initiative. Concerts could be used to fuel the petition signature campaign -- the piece that proceedes getting a ballot initiative in place, say by November of this year, or perhaps early next year. And, while it's more of a hill climb, big players in Oklahoma's music industry and maybe some of our stellar performers could be induced to raise the million dollars or more required for the petition signature phase of
the effort and the maybe $500,000-$750,000 effort that will be needed to to power up a follow-on statewide election campaign.
Weed as "Infant Industry"
Another critical, "weed" challenge: finding the legal talent and the strategic gambits needed to ensure that Oklahoma benefits economically from a new,
in-state marijuana industry. As readers may know, or may soon come to understand, the liquor industry, the fast food industry, parts of the pharmaceutical industry, and other parties are fascinated by the progress of marijuana initiatives across America. Their intention is to get into the "businesses" as soon as possible. But as I've noted in an earlier piece, this might preclude the growth of a true in-state, indigenous industry with all the tens of thousands of jobs and many millions of retail tax dollars that would flow from it. So a marijuana initiative, if rightly structured, would also be a vehicle for securing new employment and a different economic trajectory for Oklahoma -- but we'll have to work hard, via the design of a statewide referendum and in the enabling legislation that would follow voter approval.
More on all this later in the year.
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