Mental health agency wants new funding to fight marijuana addiction as ballot measure on medical cannabis looms

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Marijuana is shown in a provided image from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Oklahoma will vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana on June 26.

Oklahoma’s mental health agency wants $3.5 million in new state funding to battle marijuana addiction and claims an upcoming ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis could exacerbate the problem.

The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services says it wants additional funding for treatment, education and prevention programs to battle what mental health advocates call “Cannabis Use Disorder.”

Oklahoma will vote June 26 on State Question 788. The ballot measure will decide whether Oklahoma will join 29 other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Terri White, Commissioner for ODMHSAS, told members of the Legislature at a budget hearing on Tuesday that about 80 percent of the people the agency serves say marijuana is their first drug of choice. The agency only expects the number of marijuana users to grow if SQ 788 becomes law, she said.

ODMHSAS said it has also seen an increase in pregnant women who use marijuana in recent years.  

“This is where prevention would go to provide accurate information about what marijuana does and doesn’t do to neural development,” White said.

Cannabis Use Disorder is recognized in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders or DSM-5 as a real problem and also notes regular marijuana users can experience withdrawal symptoms.

Terri White, Commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Shawn Jenkins, a board member for the pro-medical marijuana group Vote Yes on 788 said cannabis is not physically addictive.

“I’m wondering where the state got their data on this from and why State Question 788 would have anything to do with it,” Jenkins said. “In the first place, SQ 788 requires cannabis to be prescribed by a doctor.”

SQ 788 specifies that 75 percent of new sales tax revenue generated by medical marijuana would go to fund education in the state, and the remainder would go to the Oklahoma State Department of Health for substance abuse programs, Jenkins also likes to point out.

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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