Oklahoma medical marijuana advocates gear up for 2018 after great returns in November
by Rob Howard
“There’s a big disconnect between our lawmakers and our populace,” says Chip Paul, a board member of Oklahomans for Health, the organization that successfully completed a petition drive to put medical marijuana on the Oklahoma ballot. Unfortunately, through bureaucratic foot dragging, SQ 788 did not make it on the 2016 ballot, but it will be on the general election ballot in 2018, or earlier if a special election can be held.
But there was a lot of good news for supporters of medical and recreational marijuana in the November election. California, Nevada and Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana. Florida, which turned down medical marijuana in 2014, put it over the top this time with 71 percent of the vote. North Dakota and Arkansas also legalized medical pot.
Montana voters overturned a highly restrictive law passed by its legislature and returned that state’s medical marijuana legalization to a sound footing. Voters in Maine also appeared to have approved recreational pot, but at the time The Gaylywent to press, there were several thousand provisional ballots left to be counted, so the outcome for Mainers isn’t certain.
“It’s very positive,” said Paul. “It shows that people are becoming educated and recognizing the value of marijuana as a medicine.”
Marijuana plants with their buds covered in white crystals grow at an Illinois medical marijuana cultivation center. AP Photo, Seth Perlman, File.
Paul is optimistic about the chances for SQ 788 when Oklahoma voters see it on their ballot. So is Janine Bradley, co-owner with her husband of Organics OKC in Oklahoma City. She says, “In the state of Oklahoma, the people want to see medical marijuana as an option over pharmaceuticals.”
Bradley is a member of two marijuana activist groups in the state – Oklahomans for Health, which is working for medical marijuana, and Green the Vote. “Green the vote is coming out with a new [petition] for recreational,” she said.
Paul said the state question still faces a few hurdles. After Oklahomans for Health turned in their petition, Attorney General Scott Pruitt rewrote the title to make it appear that the question was about recreational marijuana, not medical. The change pushed the timeline beyond the deadline for making the 2016 ballot.
The organization appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has yet to meet on the issue. “The Supreme Court will look at ours and at his [Pruitt’s], and either rewrite the ballot title, or give a thumbs up to ours or his. They have almost always sided with the proponent, because that is what people have signed. We hope to get a favorable ballot title out of the Supreme Court,” says Paul.
Paul also talked about internal controversy among advocates of legalized marijuana. One group, which could be described best as grassroots, wants broader laws allowing individuals to grow their own plants, and not strictly limit the growing and distribution to large corporations. The other, which is more Big Pharma related, wants essentially to limit growing and distribution to drug companies.
In fact, according to Paul, a pharmaceutical company in Arizona was the major contributor, by several million dollars, to an organization opposing that state’s ballot provision. The ballot question failed in Arizona.
“It’s almost like a Pharma firewall. You have to spend millions of dollars on clinical trials. Probably $20 million and five years with a clinical trial. Then you can bring it to market and make claims about it,” the activist says.
Arkansas had two medical marijuana questions on its preliminary ballot, but one, the more grassroots one, was removed from the ballot after being challenged. The one that passed, Question 6, is more of the Pharma backed variety. The one stricken, Question 7, would have allowed people to grow their own, and imposed far fewer restrictions on growing and distributing.
Paul said Oklahomans for Health “is shifting to a campaign mode. We’re going to talk about all that in the coming months. I would expect us to push for a special election. That might be something that we could raise enough money for.”
Watch The Gayly and www.gayly.com for continuing coverage over the battle for medical marijuana in Oklahoma.
Copyright 2016 The Gayly - 12/8/2016 @ 7:37 a.m.