The push for legal adult, or recreational, cannabis usage that came swiftly on the heels of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program has been hotly debated among both industry insiders and patients, but no one has done more to apply the brakes to the potential ballot initiatives than Paul Tay. And he managed to do it from within the confines of the Tulsa County jail.
Tay, a perennial candidate for Tulsa city offices and convicted misdemeanant, has long been an advocate for cannabis legalization and criminal justice reform.
Tay brought a challenge against State Question 807 while serving a 9-month sentence in the Tulsa County jail after being convicted by a jury of outraging public decency. The charge resulted from Tay wearing a bicycle helmet with a sex toy attached and carrying a handwritten sign with a profane message.
Tay delivered his arguments to an Oklahoma Supreme Court referee via teleconference from the jail last winter. The justices ultimately struck down his challenge, but COVID-19 had already vastly diminished the likelihood of a successful petition drive. The proponents of SQ807 requested a delay in the signature-gathering period but the state’s high court also struck that down. There is no ongoing signature drive and the window closes next month.
Tay said he initially thought nothing of SQ807, but when more participants in the state’s medical cannabis industry started coming out in opposition to it, he chose to challenge it before his trial but did not formally do so until after the jury sent him to jail.
“I, myself, took the time to read it line by line and decided that I need to do something about it, so I checked into the whole Supreme Court challenge. I was down that road. I started doing legal research on how to pull this thing off. On the day that I went to trial for the outraging public decency charge, I was in their law library during the jury deliberations to type this out in case I get sent into the pokey,” Tay said.
And into the pokey he went, submitting handwritten challenges from inside the jail. At the same time, he wrote letters to Oklahoma Gazette, completely oblivious to the ongoing coverage, he said. Portions of them were previously published in The High Culture.
“Tulsa World shut me down. Tulsa media has pretty much shut me down because they know my [modus operandi]. They know I’m just a publicity hound for my campaigns and I figured, well, the Gazette is an independent deal out of Oklahoma City. It's not The Oklahoman. It's not, you know, one of the Gaylord papers … I sent it off thinking, ‘Independent paper. They’ll read it and maybe they’ll print it,’” Tay said.
While behind bars, Tay also challenged State Question 813, a lengthy proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize cannabis without a license for adults. Tay again delivered his arguments remotely but was sprung from lockup after serving five months because he had acted as a trustee while jailed. The hearing was held July 21. The Oklahoma Supreme Court has not issued its opinion.
Tay is now busy gathering signatures for State Question 812’s ballot initiative. While written by the same group of people as SQ813, it is a brief constitutional amendment aimed at criminal justice reform. Tay said he and organizers have “agreed to disagree” on how best to enact legal access to cannabis, but both agree on decriminalization.
“I understand where they're coming from. They’re business people, and when you run a small business, you want certainty in the marketplace, and the reason why they wanted [SQ]813 as a constitutional amendment is they want certainty in the marketplace. They are basically writing a house bill into a constitutional amendment,” Tay said.
Tay said his arguments were very similar against SQ813 as they were for SQ807. He argues that both violate the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Controlled Substances Act as well as the single-subject rule for Oklahoma ballot initiative petitions.
Politically, Tay is all over the place, he admits. His runs for Tulsa mayor and city council have been to address issues of injustice he sees within the system. He does not cleave to any party lines and the one election cycle he sat out in the last two decades was because he supported another candidate.
“I want to solve problems that affect people's lives, you know? I want to be in the game. When the saints come marching in and all that kind of stuff, I want to be marching too. I want to be marching right there with folks who believe black lives matter. I want to be right there with folks who want to paint ‘blue lives matter’ on the city streets. I've got a case in the Supreme Court right now to block the removal of the Black Lives Matter mural on Tulsa streets right now. I want to be marching with folks from the right and the left,” Tay said.
Incidentally, Tay also penned and filed his own ballot initiative petition, State Question 808. It went unchallenged and the signature-gathering period elapsed while Tay was jailed. No one attempted to gather signatures for it.
After doing his homework for his challenges, Tay realized that he was guilty of the same thing he had accused other petition writers of doing.
“It should have just been one sentence: ‘The right of all persons to partake in cannabis shall not be infringed.’ That should have been it. And I put in all different kinds of stuff, and it would have totally violated the single subject rule. Why didn't anybody bother to challenge it? Because obviously, they didn't take me seriously. And that's okay. That's fine. I get that. At that time. But I feel like things have changed completely at this point,” Tay said.