Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana Proposal Borrows From Other States’ Existing Policies, But Opponents Cite That As Cause For Concern

Photo Credit: National Conference of State Legislatures

Proponents of legalized medical marijuana in Oklahoma had 30 other states’ policies to look to in drafting a ballot measure, but opponents of State Question 788 say those trailblazing states set a bad example.

“All of 788 is borrowed from policies in other states,” said Frank Grove, chairman of the Vote Yes on 788 political action committee and co-author of the state question that will go before Oklahoma voters in the June 26 primary. “Our licensing system is borrowed from Colorado, the California state medical card is our primary source because it is considered to be the best, our (employment) discrimination protections come from Arizona.”

Oklahoma is among a minority of states in not having a medical marijuana program.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow for comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs.

But opposition leaders in Oklahoma say every one of those other states founded their cannabis programs “with very narrow conditions and then expanded over time.”

“The simple fact is under State Question 788, we by far would have the most liberal medical marijuana law in the nation and I don’t think that’s the direction we want to head in as a state,” said Wes Glinsmann, executive director of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, which is a founding member of the coalition of business, medical, religious and law enforcement organizations opposed to the state question.

Leaders of the opposition group, SQ 788 is Not Medical, say they’re not opposed to Oklahoma developing a medical marijuana program, but the ballot initiative currently under consideration by voters is simply too broad.

“I treat patients with terminal conditions every day and if I could have a new, magic bullet to ease their suffering, I would want it tomorrow. This is just bad public health policy,” said Dr. Kevin Taubman, a surgeon, assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tulsa, and co-chairman of SQ 788 is Not Medical.

The program being proposed in Oklahoma would break with other state policies in not specifying certain qualifying medical conditions for legal marijuana use.

“While proponents point to other states they picked and chose from, every other state does list out specific conditions, who can prescribe, and dosing requirements,” said Glinsmann.

Grove, who is president of the Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma, said California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia and the District of Columbia already allow medical marijuana use for any medical condition.

And while SQ 788 does not list specific “qualifying conditions,” the ballot initiative requires that doctors adhere to the same protocols they learn in medical school for prescribing, he said.

“The rest of the clause determines how a doctor must recommend (marijuana) — it says they must do so in a ‘prudent and reasonable manner’ — in the same manner they would prescribe any medication,” he said. “Prudency is an important topic in medical school. Doctors are allowed to prescribe off-label for any reason. Everything in 788 is trying to put marijuana in line with other medications.

“The reality of the situation is no other medication prescribed by doctors or approved by FDA allows Congress or state legislatures to determine qualifying conditions. It is a way to control, not a way to practice medicine.”

The legalization of medical marijuana use in the U.S. began in 1996, when California voters passed Proposition 215, and seven states and District of Columbia followed suit over the next four years.

A slow trickle of eight other states adopted medical marijuana in the decade ending in 2010, but the policy issue caught fire after Colorado and Washington legalized adult use in 2012.

“The tipping point has been reached, effectively. Most states that don’t have an initiative petition process don’t have a medical marijuana program,” Grove said. “Medical marijuana is being researched more than ever now that 30 states have a program and word of mouth from other states with medical marijuana about the many benefits have finally permeated the mainstream.”

Opponents here say SQ 788 would allow Oklahomans one of the highest quantities of smokable marijuana. On top of that, they say the proposal does nothing to address the unintended, negative consequences in those states or public health concerns that restrictions in other states aim to prevent.

Specifically cited examples include exposure to second-hand marijuana smoke, accidental ingestion of marijuana edibles by children, increased risk of addiction in young people and, in the case of Colorado, the effects of a growing number of pregnant women using marijuana.

“Other states’ examples are all over the map,” said Glinsmann. “If we want to do medical marijuana, let’s look at other states and get it right.”