Photo via iStock/ Tiago_Fernandez
Next week, Oklahoma voters will have a chance to take to the polls and decide whether to legalize medical cannabis in their home state, but conservative politicians, lobbying groups, and law enforcement officials are working to foster opposition to the measure.
Last year, advocacy group Oklahomans for Health collected over 66,000 signatures on a petition to place a medical marijuana measure on this year's ballot. The state currently only allows CBD-based medicine, but the ballot measure would allow doctors to recommend psychoactive medical cannabis to adult patients, who would be allowed to purchase licensed products or grow their own plants.
At a recent government meeting, Gov. Mary Fallin said that the measure, State Question 788, was “so open-ended that it basically allows recreational marijuana in the state of Oklahoma,” Tulsa World reports. The governor noted that the measure, if passed, requires that the state implement the law within 30 days, adding that she would call for a special legislative session to amend the measure before it would becomes official.
Fallin said that the state legislature considered proposing preemptive amendments in case the measure does pass, but ultimately “chose to wait and see if the state question passed or not, so we will have to deal with it more than likely in a special session if it does pass.”
One of the biggest points of debate over SQ 788 is the fact that it doesn’t include any qualifying conditions for medical cannabis, essentially allowing any doctor to recommend the substance to treat any condition they deem medically valid. Frank Grove, chairman of the Vote Yes on 788 committee, told Tulsa World that this aspect of the measure “takes the power away from the politicians and puts it in hands of the people and medical professionals.”
Opponents of the initiative argue that the lack of qualifying conditions will enable to doctors to provide any individual with cannabis, whether they have a legitimate medical need for it or not. SQ 788 is NOT Medical — a lobbying organization representing many local law enforcement and religious groups as well as local chambers of commerce — has spent over $500,000 trying to encourage Oklahomans to vote against the measure.
Opposition to the measure took a somewhat more violent turn this Monday when local police forcefully ejected Oklahomans for Health chairman Chip Paul from a public forum on medical cannabis. Paul said that he was confronted by local sheriff Scott Walton after respectfully voicing his “frustration with some of the information being presented.” Paul told Tulsa World that Walton “grabbed me and was in my face, saying, ‘If this is frustrating, you can get out.’”
Paul said that Walton then grabbed him “by the neck and proceeded to escort me from the building. He rammed my head into a door — I don’t know if that was purposeful or not. I feel like, in my mind, he assaulted me. I was doing nothing. I have as much right to be there as he does.” Walton told NewsOK that Paul was indeed being unruly by laughing “when the people talking would make a point,” and that hitting Paul’s head on the door was an accident.
Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU of Oklahoma, called the event “a disturbing reliance on government force to silence political speech,” News on 6 reports. “Law enforcement must use force only under the most serious and threatening circumstances, a standard that Mr. Paul's behavior did not come close to meeting on Monday night. The Rogers County Sheriff is not a stranger to using his taxpayer-funded office to wage a private war against SQ 788, but with the unwarranted, violent removal of Mr. Paul from a public forum, the Sheriff's actions have become criminal.”
Regardless of the political forces rallying to impede the passage of SQ 788, it will be up to Oklahoma’s voters to decide on legal medical cannabis this coming Tuesday, June 26th.