It was a diverse crowd gathered to hear gubernatorial candidate Connie Johnson speak at a recent conference on marijuana legalization in Oklahoma City.
Participants wearing everything from tie-dye to business suits rose to give Johnson two standing ovations during a speech in a banquet hall at the Tower Hotel on Saturday.
“I’m the only candidate with the knowledge and education for cannabis reform in a progressive way,” Johnson said. “I’m the only one—I’m just saying,” Johnson said over the applause.
With her track record of sponsoring several pieces of pro-marijuana legalization, it would be fair to call the pro-pot crowd Johnson’s base.
She spent much of her nine years as a state senator representing Oklahoma City’s northeast side as a champion for marijuana legalization.
State Question 788, which would legalize medical marijuana, is also on the ballot during the June Oklahoma primary election —a definite boon for Johnson.
“I think it’s going to be a driving force in the primary in terms of turnout and in terms of me winning the primary,” Johnson said in an interview.
Johnson hopes voters who like her pro-marijuana stance will also identify with the rest of her progressive platform, which includes expanding the state’s Medicaid system and providing free 2-year college and career tech programs for all high school graduates.
Johnson said she first saw the need for drug law reform in Oklahoma after observing the many children in her neighborhood being raised by grandparents.
Most of her bills were never heard in the Oklahoma Legislature, including one she authored in 2014 calling for marijuana to be legalized outright and taxed.
“I got called the ‘pot-smoking senator’— all kinds of things,” Johnson said.
Still, many call her the mother of a movement.
William Patrick Jones, who helped organize a signature drive to get medical marijuana on the Oklahoma ballot, said Johnson’s 2014 bill started a conversation about legalization that eventually led to State Question 788.
“We started organizing and saying ‘we need to start doing something,’” Jones said. “It really put wind in our sails.”
Initiative petition campaigns to get medical marijuana on the Oklahoma ballot in 2014 and 2016 also resulted in the registration of thousands of new, pro-marijuana, voters in the state, Jones said.
Johnson isn’t the only gubernatorial candidate who supports medical marijuana, but she undoubtedly has the longest track record for backing the cause.
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Johnson’s rival in the Democratic primary, has also come out in support of medical marijuana. By the end of January, Edmondson had beaten Johnson handedly in fundraising, with about $774,000 in contributions compared to the roughly $50,000 Johnson has raised.
Libertarian Candidate Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado has been distributing packs of rolling papers with his picture printed on the cover.
“They’re stealing my lines,” Johnson said. “But I have the background … they don’t have the knowledge that I have — they can try but the substance is not there and we cannot take a chance on people who don’t know what they’re talking about.”