OKLAHOMA CITY — A new year brings new challenges for and opportunities for Oklahoma voters who will pick a new governor and decide whether to legalize medical marijuana.
Here’s a look at what’s coming up in 2018:
OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR’S RACE
At least a dozen candidates have joined the campaign to become Oklahoma’s 28th governor and succeed term-limited Gov. Mary Fallin, the first woman to serve as the state’s chief executive.
Six Republicans, three Democrats and three Libertarians are seeking the governor’s job in the Nov. 6 general election, a race that tops a ballot that includes a host of congressional, statewide and legislative races. And the next governor will inherit a dismal state budget following years of falling energy prices and state tax cuts that have sapped funding for schools, transportation and economic development.
The Republican candidates are: Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb; Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones; Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett; Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson; political newcomer Kevin Stitt and former state Rep. Dan Fisher. Democrats include: former Attorney General Drew Edmondson; former state Sen. Connie Johnson; and auto mechanic Norman Brown. The Libertarian candidates are Rex Lawhorn; Chris Powell; and Joseph Maldonado, a self-described actor and musician known as “Joe Exotic.”
Oklahomans will decide whether to join 29 other states and the District of Columbia that have a medical marijuana program that permits physicians to prescribe the drug for cancer patients and others with serious health issues.
After a failed initiative petition in 2014, supporters gathered enough signatures last year to schedule a statewide referendum on State Question 788. Fallin has said she will decide in the new year whether to schedule the election in June’s primary election or the November general election.
Unlike other states, an Oklahoma-issued medical marijuana license would require a board-certified physician’s signature, said Tulsa-area businessman Chip Paul, a medical marijuana supporter.
“We put the burden on the physician,” Paul said. People with licenses would be permitted to possess up to three ounces of marijuana on their person and eight ounces of marijuana in their residence.
Effective Oct. 1, voter-approved changes in alcohol regulations will permit grocery and convenience stores in Oklahoma to sell wine and strong beer, which have been available exclusively in retail package liquor stores.
Changes brought on by passage of State Question 792 and related legislation also give package liquor stores more flexibility in the hours they can operate and lifts restrictions that prevent the sale of chilled strong beer and various related items like ice, mixes and corkscrews.
Ron Edgmon president and CEO of the Oklahoma Grocers Association, said grocers are excited about the opportunity to meet strong consumer demand for flexibility and convenience in wine and strong beer purchases.
“Consumers are asking for it,” Edgmon said. “We’re very happy to accommodate what consumers in Oklahoma want.”
Bryan Kerr, president of the Retail Liquor Association of Oklahoma, said the changes could raise consumer prices and force many of the group’s 700 members to go out of business.
“Any liquor stores not adding coolers are going to give up a certain percentage of consumers,” Kerr said. “They want cold beer.”