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Medical marijuana issue gains new supporters with petition drive

Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report
Pro-medical marijuana backers bring in boxes of signed petitions that were later delivered to the Oklahoma Secretary of State's office last Friday.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Medical marijuana supporters will find out in early September if their signature-gathering efforts the past 90 days will put a proposed state question on the November general election ballot.

Boxes of signature pages were submitted to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office Friday. Workers in the office will officially begin counting the signatures Monday at 1 p.m. More than 155,000 signatures are required so voters can decide if they want to approve medical marijuana.

After the signatures are counted, they will be forwarded to the Oklahoma Supreme Court for validation.

The Supreme Court will decide if the petition will be placed on the November ballot.

Chip Paul, director of Oklahomans for Health, said he’s been amazed at the outpouring of support from young and old, conservative and liberal, Republicans and Democrats.

“We’ve changed the political landscape,” he said. “There are 40,000 new pro-marijuana voters who have registered and we’ve done all of this on less than a shoestring budget. But even if we don’t get the signatures we need, we’ve been incredibly successful.”

Gov. Mary Fallin changed her stance in part on the medical marijuana issue by announcing her support for limited clinical trials for cannabidiol (CBD) oils, a nonpsychoactive component of marijuana that could benefit children who suffer from varying forms of epilepsy. Her support failed to include adults with seizure disorders. Fallin supports the trials for rare disorders only and has not endorsed a broader medical marijuana agenda.

“There is no question that there is no better medication on this planet than marijuana for anyone (with seizures), but certainly children,” Paul said Friday at the State Capitol.

Surprised, yet pleased, with Fallin’s announcement, Paul said the governor’s new stance on medical marijuana is “absolutely political. She’s got 40,000 new voters who support” the issue.

Apparently, the medical marijuana band wagon has a lot of new riders lately. Even State Sen. Brian Crain (R-Tulsa) publicly said he supports the clinical trials, which is a different position than he held last year.

Crain, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and a former district attorney, told the Oklahoma Gazette last year in an interview, “I’m opposed to marijuana in any form. I talked to a doctor in Grove who told me there’s nothing in marijuana that can’t be provided for with prescription medications.”

Crain made that comment as he was questioned about the CBD oils combined with a low amount of THC, a treatment that is prohibited in Oklahoma, yet allowed in other states like Colorado.

Jennifer Walters, president of the Oklahoma Epilepsy Association, said her organization is supportive of any research that will help people who suffer from seizure disorders. Still, she knows elected officials and the general public must be educated about medical marijuana.

“We had senators and representatives at the Capitol saying parents are going to smoke it and blow it into their children’s faces,” she said. “There needs to be some education about this. It’s not pot. It’s an oil, but the media shows people with bags of marijuana and smoking a joint when they do stories about medical marijuana. It’s not that at all.”

Walters is hopeful state officials, including the governor, will open the clinical trials to adults who suffer from seizures.

“There are so many different types,” she said, listing seven forms of seizure disorders that children and adults encounter. “Epilepsy doesn’t affect just children. You can have seizures as a teen, adult or a senior citizen.”

Walters said she is anxious to find out if voters will have a chance to decide the medical marijuana issue in November. In the meantime, many Oklahoma families are leaving the state so loved ones can receive the CBD oil treatments in Colorado.

“I know of more than 100 families who left the state for that exact reason,” Walters said.

Meanwhile, Norma Sapp, president of the Oklahoma chapter for the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML), said Fallin’s sudden support for limited medical marijuana use is too little too late because families are either moving from Oklahoma or some of the children with seizure disorders like Dravet Snydrome have died.

“By the time the interim studies are done, some of the children will be dead,” Sapp said. “What they’re proposing won’t be sufficient and they’re going to find that out quickly.”

No timeline has been announced for the interim studies.

Tracy Huston, an Enid woman who was diagnosed eight years ago with Crohn’s Disease and spinal arthritis, said medical marijuana treatments would enhance her quality of life. Huston obtained almost 1,000 signatures on her own.

“Smoking (marijuana) is best for the pain, but I’m interested in the oils which would help with my inflammation,” she said Friday after arriving at the Capitol with her signature pages.

A second initiative petition that would allow voters to approve medical marijuana in addition to legalizing the drug is still being circulated. The deadline to submit signatures is Oct. 20, said State Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Forest Park). Johnson introduced the first marijuana legalization bill at the State Capitol eight years ago.

Johnson has been a strong advocate for legalization and decriminalization of marijuana based on a large number of prison inmates who have been convicted of possession-only charges. That fact, she contends, is a major contributor to the prison overcrowding problem.

Still, Johnson said Fallin shouldn’t be taken seriously with her sudden switch regarding medical marijuana calling the change “disingenuous.”

“Why should we trust her? She has a history of changing and flip-flopping,” the senator said

“And then, she’s going to try and work with a legislature that hasn’t done anything in the last eight years? They’re going to do something about it? I don’t think so.”

Twenty other states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws.

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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