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Oklahoma Votes For The Most Progressive Medical Marijuana Law To Date

By Rick Schettino
Jun 28, 2018

Oklahoma officially became the 30th U.S. state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana after 57 percent of voters cast a ballot in favor of State Question 788, the legalization of Medical Marijuana, on Tuesday. Before the vote, Oklahoma already had a law in place allowing patients with severe seizure disorders and a short list other conditions to purchase CBD oil, a product made from industrial hemp which contains none of the psychotropic components of marijuana such as THC.

Unlike most states where medical marijuana has been legalized, Oklahoma’s medical marijuana law allows doctors to recommend cannabis for any medical condition, rather than a specific list of diseases.

A Progressive Bill

The new measure, which The Washington Post called, “one of the most progressive medical marijuana bills in the country,” allows approved patients to possess up to three ounces of cannabis in public, and up to eight ounces in their home, as well as up to an ounce of cannabis, concentrates and 72 ounces of THC-containing edibles. It also allows patients to grow up to six mature marijuana plants and six seedlings. A designated caregiver will also be allowed to purchase or grow medicine on behalf of a patient.

Interestingly, as written, the bill states that anyone who is caught with up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana without a state-issued medical marijuana card would face a fine of up to $400 if they can “state a medical condition.” It’s not clear that someone in this situation would need to provide proof of the ailment.

Commercial cultivators, processors, and retailers will have to apply for a license from the state. A seven percent tax will be applied to retails sales which would be earmarked for covering the expense of  implementation and regulation of the program. Any monies left over after that is covered will go towards education as well as toward drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

All of the provisions in the measure are subject to change by state lawmakers. And, according to frequent Forbes contributor and Marijuana Majority founder Tom Angell, “there are indications that they may be amended soon.”

Quick Implementation Expected

According to the local news site, New 9, House Majority Leader Jon Echols said that he doesn't anticipate the law's implementation taking a long time and that license applications could be accepted as soon as the end of August.

Echols told News 9, "The citizens of the state have decided that they are in support of this law, so there aren't necessarily any changes that need to be made… What I would like to see happen is putting together an orderly process for getting your permits to sell it to be a dispensary. Getting your permits to grow it… we put together some common sense regulations for what home growth looks like. We're not looking at changing any of the fundamentals."

Meanwhile, the state’s Republican Governor Mary Fallin has expressed opposition to the measure as written, calling it “loosely written” and labeling it "recreational marijuana in the state of Oklahoma."

In a statement released Tuesday night after the election, the governor stated that although she respects the will of the voters, "it is our responsibility as state leaders to look out for the health and safety of Oklahoma citizens,” adding “As I mentioned in previous public comments, I believe, as well as many Oklahomans, this new law is written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana. I will be discussing with legislative leaders and state agencies our options going forward on how best to proceed with adding a medical and proper regulatory framework to make sure marijuana use is truly for valid medical illnesses.”

Mixed Public Reaction

Other groups such as the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, and the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association also publicly opposed the measure. A coalition opposed to the measure called SQ 788 is Not Medical said in a statement, "We are obviously disappointed by the outcome...However, we respect the will of the voters."

According to a report from CNBC, the group launched a late $500,000 media blitz framing the proposal as legalized recreational marijuana under the guise of medical care.

Former president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and chairman of the opposition group Dr. Kevin Taubman said in a statement, “This is a bad public health policy that does not resemble a legitimate medical treatment program.”

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a statement, “Public support for medical marijuana access is non-partisan,” “Even in a predominantly ‘red’ state like Oklahoma, it is the will of the voters to enact common sense, yet significant marijuana law reforms.”

And Karen O'Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement, "It is noteworthy that this measure passed in such a red state during a primary election when voter turnout tends to be older and more conservative than during a general election. Support for medical marijuana is overwhelming, and it spans the political and demographic spectrums."

A Bipartisan Issue

In his report in Forbes, Angell points out that, “the approval of such a far-reaching marijuana proposal in a deeply red state like Oklahoma — during a midterm primary election, no less — is a clear sign of the mainstream political support that cannabis reform now enjoys.”

According to Angell, proponents of the measure had no significant funding. National drug policy reform groups have helped to fund vote initiatives in other states. Opponents of the bill, however, poured around half a million dollars into television ads in an attempt to defeat the measure.

Oklahoma’s is the first marijuana question on a state ballot in 2018, with elections scheduled for later this year in Michigan and Utah. Voters in neighboring Arkansas legalized the drug for medical use in 2016, but Oklahoma is among the most conservative states to approve its use.

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