A grassroots organization renewing its push for Oklahoma to legalize medical marijuana says it has revamped its approach and expects success the second time.
Bridget Wood, a board member of Oklahomans for Health, said she has witnessed how Oklahomans could benefit. She has seen family members suffer from cancer, children who have seizures and now, she says her own health has declined.
“Nobody should have to risk their freedom to get healthy or to feel good,” she said. “They need the legal medical marijuana in order to be comfortable in their own body, and in a lot of cases, live a lot longer.”
The group is hoping to add two state questions to November’s ballot.
One would legalize marijuana for residents with a doctor’s recommendation and calls for the state Department of Health to regulate the dispensing. The other would allow one year instead of 90 days to circulate a petition for signatures. It would also require three-quarters majority of the Legislature to repeal or amend voter-approved measures.
The group must collect 66,000 signatures so voters can decide in November if medical marijuana should be legal.
The organization had a petition drive in 2014 that collected about 77,000 signatures, but it required twice that amount to put it on the ballot. The group needed a higher amount of signatures because it sought a constitutional amendment. The current proposal seeks statutory changes.
Jill Galbraith, an Oklahomans for Health volunteer, said she has helped circulate the petitions throughout Tulsa.
“People saw it in 2014, so when they see us out now, they’ve seen it before,” Galbraith said. “Most people are happy — way more than the majority — to see us. And they thank us, overwhelmingly.”
Wood said she’s confident the organization will meet its signature goal this year because it is more prepared.
“We’ve had a great deal of time to go over everything that worked and everything that didn’t work,” she said. “We’ve just revamped.”
Former State Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is working with the organization and believes it’s a cause Oklahomans will get behind.
“All of us are raised with the idea that marijuana is awful. It’s a schedule 1 drug — we’re taught to avoid that,” Dorman said. “But there’s really not an understanding of the benefits of what can happen as use for a medicine.”
Dorman said he has several friends and family members who could benefit from medical marijuana. His niece has lupus and he had a friend who died from an overdose of pain medication.
“If this can be a safer alternative to treating pain, then it’s ridiculous not to allow doctors to have this as a treatment plan for caring for individuals,” he said.
Dorman is confident that once people are informed of marijuana’s benefits, the petition will get enough signatures. And if it makes it to the ballot, it will get the votes to pass, he said.
Although Dorman supports the use of medical marijuana, he said he draws the line at legalizing it for recreational use.
“I do believe it should be treated like a medicine, just like any prescription medication. I personally do not support legalization, ” he said.
“There are many in the effort who do and I certainly don’t hold that against anyone.”
Oklahomans are warming up to the idea of legal medical marijuana and decriminalization, according to the most recent SoonerPoll results.
The poll had support for medical marijuana at 71 percent and 57 percent for decriminalization. The poll did not ask about legalization.
Oklahoma’s neighbors are also considering legalizing use of marijuana.
In April, Arkansas’ attorney general approved a ballot title that could make medical and recreational marijuana legal. The Arkansas Cannabis Amendment would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients and would permit people older than 21 to use marijuana recreationally.The amendment needs 85.000 signatures to be on the November ballot.
Two other medical marijuana petitions are also circulating in Arkansas. The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment needs 85,000 signatures, and the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act needs about 68,000 signatures.
In May, Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law that expanded the use of cannabidiol, a non-intoxicating oil derived from marijuana, for certain medical conditions. Its use was previously limited to children under 18, but the signed bill removed age restrictions.
In a statement emailed by a spokesman, Fallin said she doesn’t support the legalization of a broadly-defined medicinal marijuana for healthy residents to “find and buy drugs.”
California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana, has been criticized because of its lack of control on the industry.
The new laws that go into effect in 2018 will call for California’s medical board to investigate and discipline doctors who aren’t complying with ethical standards in recommending marijuana for patients. More background checks will be required for licensees and a board will administer seller permits, oversee tax collections and help develop a system to track the movement of cannabis products.
Mark Woodward, spokesman for Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, said the legalization of medical marijuana raises concerns.
Although the department supports the use of cannabidiol for medical treatments, it opposes “the outright legalization of smoking marijuana under the guise of medicine,” Woodward said.
“From a law enforcement perspective, we visit with our partners in states like California and Colorado and we hear their stories of the problems they’re seeing and what we want to prevent here in Oklahoma,” he said.
“And those concerns would be that a lot of these people who are pushing medical, smokable marijuana are actually trying to create a loophole so that they can claim some type of an illness and smoke whatever they want.”
People who smoke marijuana to become high pose a public safety risk, Woodward said. Additionally, no legitimate medical organization has supported smoking a drug as the best delivery system, he said.
“We don’t have doctors recommending patients crush up their hydrocodone and smoke it in a tube, even though recreational drug addicts do,” he said.
A list of petition locations can be found on the Oklahomans for Health website, which is updated daily.
Questions to look for on Oklahoma’s November ballot:
State Question 777: Prohibits the Legislature “from passing laws abridging the right of farmers and ranchers to employ technologies and practices without compelling state interest”
State Question 776: Protects death penalty statutes with constitutional justification; specifies that methods for execution can be changed and the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment
State Question 790: Would repeal Section 5 of Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits public money from being spent for religious purposes
Wine and beer amendment: Would allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine.
State Question 779: Calls for a 1-cent increase in the state’s sales tax to support education
State Question 780: Reclassifies certain low-level offenses, such as property crimes and simple drug possession, to misdemeanor crimes
State Question 781: Uses money saved by reclassifying certain property and drug crimes as misdemeanors outlined in State Question 780 to fund rehabilitative programs
State Question 787: Would reform the initiative and referendum petition process by lengthening the time period to collect signatures from 90 days to one year. It would also allow for letter paper to be used for signature sheets instead of legal size and require three-quarters of the Legislature to repeal or amend approved measures.
State Question 788: Legalizes the licensed growth, use and possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes.