OK: Voters To Make Call On controversial Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo Credit: Vicky O. Misa

Oklahomans will soon head to the polls to tackle whether to legalize medical marijuana use; there are some very differing opinions being voiced lately about the controversial topic.

Residents will need to determine where they stand soon — State Question 788 is up for a vote June 26.

The bill would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in the state. A state-issued license would be mandatory — requiring a doctor’s signature. There would be no specific qualifying conditions to receive it. Those with a license could possess up to three ounces of marijuana on their person and up to eight ounces at home.

They could legally possess up to six mature marijuana plants; six seedling plants; 72 ounces of edible marijuana products; and one ounce of concentrated marijuana.

A seven-percent tax would be levied on marijuana sales.

In favor of the measure

In a recent informational forum on the subject, advocates in favor of the initiative shared their views on why marijuana should be legalized.

Dana McMurchy, public liaison from Yes on 788, offered a presentation, explaining the endocannabinoid system.

“Endocannabinoids are chemical messengers that maintain optimal balance in your system; that’s why we have receptors in our nervous system and our immune system — that’s why they affect so many things,” she said. “As a (retired) medical, pharmaceutical device person, what I saw was little flags that said they were useful for cancer, diabetes and anxiety.”

Drugs don’t work like that, she said, but plants do.

“It can work on our whole system, much like air works on our whole system,” she said.

The panel — made up of retired registered nurse Pam Street, activist Norma Sapp and legislative watchdog Chris Moe — shared views and experiences that validate why they believe the measure should be passed.

Street shared the story of a local man with colon cancer who was treated with chemotherapy — which, she said resulted in kidney failure because of his age — and was sent home to die.

He then chose to try a cannabis extract and now is cured, she said.

“Our politicians and doctors and scientists don’t necessarily like that word,” she said, “but I am going to use the word cured.”

She said she knows what healing looks like and she knows how to read medical records.

“Our healing, our rights to our bodies and health are a matter of spirituality, to a great extent,” she said. “Healing comes when we consider the wholeness of the human, not just the diagnostic code or the amount of money they have to afford products,” Street said.

Sapp, who works at a CBD shop, said she gains a lot of joy from being able to help others.

“It’s really fun to go to work and see how happy these people are when they come back in saying they don’t hurt anymore,” she said. “That’s a really great job; I like that.”

She said she has been an activist for 29 years, researching the topic — which started with hemp — and learned how to lobby the legislature.

Sapp and McMurchy also discussed a benefit of legalizing marijuana which could greatly lessen overcrowding in prison — if current crimes affiliated with marijuana possession are then decriminalized and those prisoners are then set free, with expunged records.

Moe said the government’s approach to cannabis is that they have the patent, yet they classify it as a Schedule 1 substance. (Chemicals defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.)

“We tax it, and then lock people in jail for having joints,” he said.

Against the measure

U.S. Sen. James Lankford said the initiative is not a rational conversation.

“If you read it, it’s a recreational marijuana bill. It’s very clear the way it’s written, to allow people to have access to it, in quantities they can grow, they can store, they can have, and it’s very open on how you get a prescription and what it can be for,” he said. “So, it is most definitely an opening toward recreational marijuana.”

Lankford said he is appalled when he hears advocates suggest increasing education funding by taxing marijuana.

“I do not think the best thing that we can do for our kids is to get their parents and grandparents to smoke more marijuana.”

His reservations do not appear to be based on whether marijuana has medicinal value, but rather the ambiguity of the bill’s wording and the economic impact that could potentially have on the state.

“I have yet to see a single employer come to me and say, ‘You know what I really need? I need more employees at lunch to smoking marijuana before they come back for the afternoon. That’s what I really need more of in my workplace,’” he said.

The Vote NO coalition, made up of medical professionals, those in law enforcement, business leaders, and members of the faith community, agree with Lankford, suggesting SQ 788 is too vague and unregulated.

“This state question is not about Medical Marijuana,” campaign chairman Dr. Kevin Taubman said. “This question is too broad and does not have the support of the medical community.”

As well as being chairman of the committee, Taubman is the immediate past-president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, a founding member of the Vote NO coalition.

“When you look past the ballot title and into the details of the question, you see many problems,” Mike Waters, Pawnee County sheriff and president of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, said.

The state question creates a special class of citizen out of those who obtain a medical marijuana license.

“It does not make sense that an 18-year-old can go to a veterinarian, say he gets headaches, and then be given a two-year license to carry enough marijuana for 85 joints,” he said. “As it is written, it is possible he could then have these on school grounds — and because it is medicine from a doctor, we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Waters said he believes a better medical marijuana law could be written that his organization could support.

Taubman added it is not a debate about whether or not marijuana has medicinal benefits.

“Members of our coalition are not unanimous in opposition to all medical marijuana laws,” he said, “but we all believe SQ 788 is not medical.”

The state question is worded in a way that prohibits municipalities, landlords, employers, and even schools from regulating the activity of medical marijuana license holders.

If the question passes, some argue a college could not keep a license-holder from smoking and growing marijuana in a dorm room, and the proposition expressly states a landlord could not prohibit these activities. If in place today, one could not stop someone renting a hotel room from using marijuana, as current smoke free areas only apply to tobacco.