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A budding question

Part one, in a series of three, ahead of the June 26 medical marijuana referendum

Stoney King, owner of CBD Pharm in Kendall-Whittier

Greg Bollinger

As most readers are probably aware, SQ 788 will come to a vote on June 26. It’s a hot-button issue, and despite meddling from Governor Mary Fallin and former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, early polls show that more than 60 percent of voters are in favor of its passage. But what exactly are we voting on, and how did it make its way to the ballot box?

In 2016, Oklahomans for Health, the group behind SQ 788, successfully gathered enough signatures to add the question to the ballot. As written now, the measure would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Patients would have to be at least 18 years of age and have a board-certified doctor’s signature to obtain a medical marijuana license.

“In 788 we circulated three principal tenets,” said Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health. “One is our reliance on the physician recommendation over a list of medical conditions. Number two would be how we didn’t restrict grower licenses. The third is your ability to grow your own medicine.”

This medical marijuana license would allow a patient to possess up to three ounces of cannabis on their person and eight ounces in their home. Additionally, they would be allowed to cultivate up to six plants for personal consumption. Sales at dispensaries would be taxed at seven percent, with most revenue being used for administrative costs, while the rest would be used for education and drug and alcohol rehabilitation through the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Another license, which costs $2,500, would be required to operate a commercial grow-op, dispensary, or processing operation. Possession of less than one and a half ounces of marijuana with a medical condition but without a license would be a misdemeanor.

Landlords, employers, and schools would be forbidden to penalize patients for having a marijuana license, unless not doing so would cause them to lose federal benefits. Employers could only penalize patients who use or possess cannabis at work. Parents could not lose visitation or custody rights as a result of possessing a medical marijuana license.

“There have been an overwhelming number of people that want it,” said Senator Kevin Matthews (D-Tulsa). “Some concern I’ve heard in the legislature is how it’s going to be regulated.”

This bill would make Oklahoma one of the most permissive medical marijuana states in the union. But the industry would still be regulated. HB 3468 passed the House this March; if it passes the Senate—either in a special session or 2019’s regular session—it will create an Oklahoma Cannabis Commission to regulate the medical marijuana industry. Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) authored the bill with the input of Oklahomans for Health.

“We fully expect further regulation to happen, and it will need to happen,” said Paul. “How do you run security in a dispensary? We didn’t put that in there because we didn’t really need to yet, but that needs to be defined.”

Oklahoma already allows the medical use of cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive compound found in marijuana. Cannabidiol, or CBD, has shown to be effective for treating epilepsy, pain, and a number of other conditions. The compound became legal in Oklahoma in 2015 when “Katie and Cayman’s Law,” which allows minors with severe epilepsy to take CBD, passed. Age restrictions were lifted in 2016, and a year later widespread sale and use of CBD was allowed.

Currently, products sold in Oklahoma must contain .03 percent or less of THC. Medical marijuana advocates say access to CBD products is not enough.

“Of course 788 is a huge deal,” said Stoney King, owner of CBD Pharm, a CBD shop in Kendall-Whittier (2324 E. Admiral Blvd.). “My sister, for example, has epilepsy. The CBD that comes from hemp is good, but it’s not what we need. We need THC.”

788 has faced some opposition among state government. In August 2016, Scott Pruitt added the following line to the State Question:

“This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma. There are no qualifying medical conditions identified.”

While this new language changed none of the substance in the state question, it made it sound as if the bill was much more permissive than it actually is, thus ensuring its unpopularity. In addition, because Pruitt added the language so late in the legislation process, it postponed the vote until after the 2016 election, which would have seen a greater turnout. In March of 2017, the Oklahoma Supreme Court restored the original language on the ballot. In addition to Pruitt’s tinkering, Mary Fallin moved the measure to the June 26 ballot, which will likely get less attention than the November ballot (when we will elect a new governor, as well).

The legislature adjourned its session May 3 without legislating on medical marijuana. This means that the state will have no regulatory structure should SQ 788 pass. In a recent press release, New Health Solutions Oklahoma, a medical marijuana trade group, said they will request a special session if the measure passes.

This is the first part of a three-part series on Oklahoma’s medical marijuana initiative. Read part two here and part three here.

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