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Oklahomans to vote on medical marijuana in June as AG Sessions rolls back non-interference policy

Nick Oxford / Red Dirt Report
A medical cannabis advocate during a protest at the State Capitol in 2016.
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OKLAHOMA CITY- On June 26, Oklahoma voters will have the chance to vote on legalizing medical marijuana after Gov. Mary Fallin filed an executive proclamation Thursday placing State Question 788 on the primary election ballot.

The question of medical marijuana on the primary ballot is due to an initiative petition circulated in 2016 which garnered enough signatures to place the issue before voters. Fallin’s announcement Thursday came on the heels of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announcement that he rescinded three memos from the Obama administration which adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws.

 “Backers of this proposal to legalize medical marijuana followed procedures and gathered the more than 66,000 required signatures to submit the issue to a vote of the people,” said Fallin. “I’m fulfilling my duty as governor to decide when that election will occur this year.”

If approved by voters, the measure would permit doctors to recommend a patient, who is at least 18 years old, for a state-issued medical marijuana license. A license holder would be allowed to legally possess up to 3 ounces of the drug, six mature plants and six seedlings. These limits can be increased by individual counties or cities, according to the Governor’s press statement.

While CBD oil with THC, the chemical compound in cannabis responsible for a euphoric high, has been legal since 2015, the new state question would also legalize the smokeable form of marijuana for medical use if prescribed by a physician.

Already, the issue of legalizing marijuana and the proposed election date is gathering mixed reactions. Some supporters claim that the state question should have been included in the November general election because traditionally more citizens turn out to vote. Others say being on the primary ballot would benefit the chances of the measure passing.

“We’re excited about it. We earned the ballot, and we are glad it’s going to be earlier. The sooner the better, because the quicker we can get medical marijuana to the patients, the better,” said Chip Paul, co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, the grassroots organization that petitioned the state in 2014 and 2016 to have medical marijuana for all citizens on the ballot.

“I don’t know if there was an intent to harm the movement to put the question on the primary ballot, but we think it’s positive. When we circulated our petitions in 2014 and 2016, we broke voter registration records. We think there is so much interest around the state question that we will have an unusually large turnout.”

In Oklahoma, both Democratic candidates for Governor, former Sen. Connie Johnson and former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, have come out in favor of bringing medical marijuana to the vote of the people. Edmondson, however, felt the primary election decision was designed to hurt the issue.

“It would seem that by placing State Question 788 on the primary ballot instead of on the general election ballot where turnout has historically been higher, Gov. Fallin is hoping to minimize the number of voters who decide its fate,” Edmondson said in a statement Thursday. “This is an important issue and certainly one where all Oklahomans should vote — despite Gov. Fallin’s efforts to stifle their voices. Personally, I believe science supports the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and I’m voting yes.”

Johnson has made the legalization of medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and industrialized hemp a major platform in her bid for the Democratic choice for governor, saying the three could be a new income stream for Oklahoma and a way to fund core services ranging from education to mental health while also reducing the state’s overcrowded prison system.

Paul said Oklahoma voters have interest in the issue, and although Sessions rolled back the memos regarding states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, he felt the federal policy change would not impact legal medical marijuana if voters approved the state question.

“I think he’s saying that Congress needs to put proper laws in place,” said Paul. “I take comfort in the fact that the Trump Administration has been clear and vocal in its support of the medical marijuana program.”

Mark Woodward, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, said that the OBN would follow state laws.

“From our perspective, we go with the will of the voters and the state legislature,” Woodward said. “If the question passes, then we will look at it carefully. We have been in conversations with and studying what other states have done. Medical marijuana isn’t new. California legalized it in the 1990s, so we have 22 years of information we can tap into to see how other states have handled it.”

Since 2014, Congress has blocked the U.S. Justice Department from interfering with medical marijuana decisions from states that allow it.

“We’re just happy Oklahomans have the chance to vote on it,” Paul said.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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