Marijuana advocates admit to inflating the initiative's success

Isaac Caviness and Dody Sullivan appear in screenshots of a Facebook video provided by the Enid News & Eagle.

OKLAHOMA CITY — Marijuana supporters were bitterly disappointed and angry Tuesday, after the organizers of a movement to legalize recreational marijuana admitted they lied about the initiative’s success.

In a Facebook video posted late Monday, three current or former Green the Vote board members said their group had lied to the public by grossly inflating the number of collected signatures.

While just last week the group announced gathering more than enough signatures to easily qualify a ballot measure to legalize adult recreational marijuana, the women said organizers actually are far short of the 124,000 signatures required.

Green the Vote board members made the announcement Monday — less than 48 hours before the Tulsa-based advocacy group is required to stop collecting signatures and turn them in to state officials.

“If the numbers are there Wednesday, it will be a miracle,” said board member Jamie Nall, who said she learned about the “big lie” on Monday.

In reality, the group had collected just over 73,000 as of Sunday, said board member Ashley Mullin-Lowry.

“In the beginning, it’s OK to fudge the numbers a little bit because it gets people motivated, it gets them excited to get out there to be part of what’s happening,” former board member Dody Sullivan said in the video.

Sullivan, who said she was tasked with counting signatures, admitted she knew the movement was well short of the necessary number of signatures, but organization leader Isaac Caviness promised the signatures would catch up to his brash predictions.

“The numbers that have been spoken are not even close to what is in the office,” she said.

In a separate Facebook video, Caviness said for the first few weeks the number of signatures was very low, and he and Sullivan made the decision to release estimates as hard numbers in an effort to garner momentum.

Caviness said he had no idea how far off the numbers were until recently. As of Monday, the group had collected 78,000 signatures, he said.

“I never mean to mislead you in a way in which this wouldn’t get done,” Caviness said. “I truly — from day one all the way till now — believe that we have the signatures.”

“If I have hurt the credibility of Green the Vote, I apologize to each and every one of you,” he said. “It was not my intention to hurt the movement. It was not my intention to mislead anyone. It was my intention to inspire so that we could get this done.”

Caviness did not immediately return a text message seeking additional comment.

In the Facebook video, he offered to resign as head of the group, but his resignation was not accepted.

Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health and a marijuana supporter, said he was “shocked” when he learned that Green the Vote had inflated signature totals.

“It’s very disappointing,” Paul said. “It’s very disappointing to all of us who have cheered them on and fought for them and tried to help.”

Having run two signature-gathering petitions, Paul said it’s a temptation to inflate support numbers, “but that’s an ethical decision” and a line that shouldn’t be crossed.

“You’re building the trust of your downstream and your community,” he said.

When Green the Vote announced the measure was destined to make the ballot, Paul said supporters were “over the moon thrilled” and viewed it as another victory for marijuana supporters.

Supporters are already celebrating the recent legalization of medical marijuana.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, have been relying on Green the Vote’s input as they begin to craft permanent medical marijuana regulations.

Paul said the lies might put some doubt in lawmaker’s minds, but he’s certain marijuana supporters can overcome that.

“Green the Vote is way bigger than the two people who fudged the numbers,” Paul said. “There are thousands and thousands of people in Green the Vote. We need their input and buy-in.”

Bud Scott, executive director of the medical marijuana trade group New Health Solutions Oklahoma, said the signature situation won’t shift the focus away for medical marijuana implementation.

“It’s a really sad state of affairs, but none of it changes our direction or our positions,” he said. “I think we have bigger (issues) than some activists making bad decisions.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.