Hundreds of medical marijuana supporters descended on Oklahoma’s state Capitol on Thursday to warn lawmakers not to infringe on their legal right to grow, consume and sell cannabis.
Medical marijuana supporters cried foul on dozens of bills filed by state lawmakers that would increase restrictions on the production and consumption of medical cannabis.
Proposed bills could ban marijuana advertising on billboards, prevent future dispensaries from being located near churches and give cities and towns more leeway to regulate marijuana businesses.
Several bills also would increase fees for commercial growers, processors and dispensary owners from $2,500 to $10,000.
“We’re not asking for anything except just let us be a business,” said Linda Jerchau, a grower at Hypnotic Farms in Claremore. “We’re legal. Let us stay legal. Let us be.”
The more legislators restrict medical marijuana businesses, the fewer businesses that are going to be able to operate, she said. All Oklahomans lose in that scenario because medical cannabis is making millions in tax revenue for the state, Jerchau said.
Oklahoma collected about $55 million in tax revenue last year, the first full year medical was legal in the state.
Jerchau’s father, John Blackwell, attended the rally decked out in a black suit emblazoned with cannabis leaves. He complimented the outfit with a cherry-red bowler hat and red dress shoes.
Blackwell has been using medical marijuana for the past six months as a sleep aid.
“It doesn’t knock you out,” he said. “It helps you relax and sleep.”
His previous experiences with prescription Ambien left him feeling hungover in the morning. He also had too many experiences with what he called “Ambien roulette” where he would go online shopping while he was asleep and not realize he had purchased items until they arrived at his front door weeks later.
A majority of Oklahomans voted for medical marijuana and they won’t allow legislators to slowly chip away at the law, Blackwell said.
“We’re not going to let them get away with it,” he said. “The public wanted it passed as a law, it got passed as a law, then why are they trying to nibble away at it?”
Re. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, tried to offer medical cannabis supporters some peace of mind.
Fetgatter, who will serve as the gatekeeper of marijuana bills that come through the House, said his long-held anti-marijuana stance has changed since the passage of State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana.
“When the people voted and passed the law, I realized it was my time to take my personal feelings, my personal thoughts, my personal experiences and put those to the side and do my job,” he said.
Fetgatter is seeking some of his own legislative marijuana reforms this year. Perhaps the most notable would address driving while under the influence of marijuana.
As medical cannabis supporters prepared to spread out through the Capitol to lobby their legislators, Fetgatter said lawmakers are just listening to their constituents and trying to weigh competing interests.
But Fetgatter pledged that any bills he backs this year will be supportive of Oklahoma’s medical marijuana community and industry.
“If you see my name on something, there is a very specific reason why I put my name on it,” he said. “That’s to make sure that whatever happens with that bill has the interest of the patients and the business owners in the state of Oklahoma in mind when it crosses the finish line.”