A group backed by Oklahoma law enforcement, the medical community and business leaders is spending half a million dollars to oppose a state question on medical marijuana in the final weeks before the election.
The political action committee SQ 788 is Not Medical disclosed in filings to the Oklahoma Ethics Commission this week that it is spending $443,000 on media buys to oppose State Question 788 leading up to the vote. The ballot measure is on the June 26 primary ballot. The group is also spending another $10,000 on social media, and $47,563 on yard signs, direct mail and print advertising, according to filings.
The upcoming June primary is the first election to test new Ethics Commission rules for reporting expenditures in support or to oppose state questions.
The Ethics Commission moved to require expenditures on state questions to be reported in advance of an election after a glut of hotly contested ballot measures in 2016, said Ashley Kemp, executive director of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
The state questions on the ballot that year included a successful measure to allow wine in grocery stores that Walmart Inc. paid more than $4.8 million to support.
Though groups like SQ 788 is Not Medical now have to disclose expenditures before an election, the public still won’t get to see the donors who finance the group until after the vote.
SQ 788 is Not Medical says its efforts are backed by a broad coalition that includes the Oklahoma State Medical Association; the Catholic Conference of Oklahoma; the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association; the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association and the Tulsa and Oklahoma City chambers of commerce.
Because the political action committee did not register with the Ethics Commission until May, and because of the way the filing periods fall, the public will not find out who is financing the opposition group until after the June election.
The group registered as a newly formed political action committee on May 15 with the Ethics Commission.
The next deadline to file campaign disclosure statements that will reveal the group’s donors is not until July 31 — more than a month after the election.
Josh Harlow, a spokesman for SQ 788 is Not Medical, would not say who is financing the group.
“I’m not going to get into that, because that’s all going to be public,” he said.
Harlow said the group’s message has been gaining momentum over the past few weeks, with an independent poll conducted by The Right Strategy Group showing the gap between those in support of the state question narrowing to 7 points. The poll showed 6.5 percent of voters surveyed said they were still undecided.
“Donors will come from across the spectrum faith leaders, business leaders — I can tell you we need more,” Harlow said. “We need to close the gap.”
The opposition group believes SQ 788 is poorly written and overly broad, Harlow said.
One organization SQ 788 is Not Medical is paying for social media campaigning is a little-known Oklahoma City-based nonprofit called the Student Development Institute. Campaign filings show the anti-788 group is paying the Student Development Institute $5,000 for “social media and ads.”
The Student Development Institute is led by the evangelist Paul Abner, who also runs the group Oklahoma Faith Leaders, listed in campaign materials as a part of the SQ 788 is Not Medical coalition.
Abner also operates an ministry called Worth the Wait that promotes abstinence until after marriage for teenagers.
Reached by phone, Abner declined to answer questions about the Student Development Institute.
In social media posts, the SQ 788 is not Medical group has made claims about the the ballot measure that are not factual, said Frank Grove, who co-authored SQ 788.
SQ 788 is Not Medical has made the claim that the ballot measure “would hinder public spaces from being drug-free,” making it legal to smoke marijuana at “traditionally family-friendly places like sporting events and other public spaces.”
There is no language in the state question that makes smoking marijuana in public legal, however some cities may have to pass new ordinances, Grove said.
“There is nothing to prevent municipalities, counties or the state to ban smoking in public — there is nothing to prevent private business from banning it on their property,” he said.
The anti-SQ-788 group also says that “veterinarians, dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and chiropractors” will be able to prescribe medical marijuana, along with medical doctors and osteopathic physicians.
The ballot measure states that all medical marijuana licenses must be signed by an “Oklahoma board certified-physician,” and that it can be prescribed for any condition. The Oklahoma State Department of Health will be tasked with overseeing the process.
Grove says that veterinarians will not be able to prescribe medical marijuana.
“They are not allowed to prescribe drugs to humans,” Grove said. “Ultimately, once the enacting legislation is in place, I’m not foreseeing anybody but M.D.s and D.O.s to be able to recommend on those forms.”