Another red state went green this year, and it hasn’t been without its difficulties. But if there’s one thing that Oklahoma—the 30th state to legalize medical marijuana—has shown us, it’s that the will of the people cannot be ignored.
Oklahoma Cannabis Laws Timeline
First, we’ll begin with a brief history of cannabis laws in Oklahoma.
- 1933—Oklahoma banned marijuana, following a nationwide trend.
- 2014—Oklahomans for Health tried to get medical marijuana on the ballot, but did not secure enough signatures.
- 2015—Governor Mary Fallin signs a bill into law allowing CBD clinical trials while insisting that she does not support full legalization of cannabis.
- 2015—Green the Vote secured enough signatures to get medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot. Subsequently, Attorney General Scott Pruitt changed the language of the initiative. Oklahomans for Health sued Pruitt and won. The language was restored, but legal procedures pushed the initiative to a 2018 election. Governor Fallin established a ballot date on January 4, 2018, of June 26, 2018, as a referendum initiative.
- 2018—Oklahomans vote to legalize medical marijuana with State Question 788.
One of the Least-Restrictive Laws in the Country
State Question 788 was a ballot referendum that passed on June 26, 2018. This means that the law to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma was proposed and passed by the people, not through legislative channels. Here some more details about the law:
- It passed by a 57% to 43% margin.
- Unlike most other state medical marijuana laws, it does not delineate specific illnesses for which physicians can authorize patients for a license. This is indicative of an increasingly mainstream political support for cannabis.
- SQ 788 did not have national funding support and faced half-million-dollar campaign ads from the opposition, and still passed, suggesting that voters have become highly aware of the benefits of medical marijuana.
- Per the new law, patients will receive state ID cards, be allowed to possess three ounces of marijuana in public and eight ounces at home.
- The penalty for possessing up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana without an ID card is now only a misdemeanor in Oklahoma. People who simply state they have a medical condition will be fined up to $400. Previous to SQ 788, it was $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. Larger amounts of marijuana possession will face the same penalties as before, however.
- A 7% retail tax will be applied to all cannabis sales. Tax revenue will go toward implementation and regulation costs, then to education and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.
Oklahomans Keep Officials in Check
Oklahoma has had some of the stiffest penalties for possession in the past. It has a history of handing out life sentences for marijuana for anything from the possession of an absurdly small amount to buying it from government officials in a reverse sting.
One of these tragic cases involves Jimmy Montgomery. Jimmy Montgomery was a paraplegic who lived in Sayre, Oklahoma and smoked marijuana to control the debilitating muscle spasms in his back. He had turned to marijuana after determining that he didn’t want to remain addicted to the morphine and valium that doctors had been prescribing for him. In 1990, Montgomery was arrested for two ounces of pot found on the back of his wheelchair. It was his first offense. He was tried and convicted by a jury for possession with intent to distribute, for possession of paraphernalia, for unlawful possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime (two handguns inherited from his father, a police officer), and for maintaining a place resorted to by users of controlled substances. His sentence was life, plus 16 years. There is a lot more to this heartbreaking story and miscarriage of justice, which can be read here.
This demonization of marijuana explains the residual compulsion of many authorities and more conservative special interest groups to continue opposing it. It should be noted that within the mainstream, medicinal marijuana is no longer a bi-partisan issue. Being opposed or in support of it seems to have more to do with how informed one is, rather than one’s political affiliation.
Several government entities and special interest groups were opposed to SQ 788. These included:
- Oklahoma State Medical Association
- Oklahoma Faith Leaders
- U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R)
- Russel Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
- Rev. Paul Abner, Assembly of God pastor and member of Oklahoma Faith Leaders
- SQ 788 is NOT Medical Coalition. Members of this coalition included the Oklahoma Pharmacists Association, State Chamber of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State Medical Association, and the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.
- Richard Slater of the Oklahoma DEA
Despite the fact that these organizations spent half a million on ads, SQ 788 still prevailed.
On the road to legalization, the Oklahoma government overstepped its authority not once, but several times. Consequently, many government officials faced embarrassing lawsuits that publicized their blatant contempt for democracy. The first time was in 2016, when then-Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, rewrote the ballot title for State Question 788. The ballot was submitted and sponsored by Oklahomans for Health and had been secured by the secretary of state’s office as valid and having more than enough signatures.
Pruitt rewrote the ballot title in the interest of his own political agenda. A side-by-side comparison can be found here. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ordering the original ballot title be restored.
When the lawsuit was over, Governor Fallin set the primary election date of June 26, 2018, as the date to put the ballot initiative to a vote. Her selection of a primary election over a general election, for which there would be more voter turnout, was a blatant strategic maneuver.
And yet, SQ 788 prevailed.
Once voters approved SQ 788, however, the government’s attempt to push its “we know better than you” agenda did not cease. Because SQ 788 set a strict timeline of 60 days for the state to begin implementation of the medical marijuana program, the state Board of Health was tasked with coming up with emergency rules. In doing so, they undercut the will of the people. Here are some of the ways that these original rules flew in the face of the language of SQ 788 and in the face of democracy:
- Banned smokable marijuana
- Required a pharmacist in every dispensary
- Limited the levels of THC in medical marijuana
- Required females of “childbearing age” to take a pregnancy test
Several lawsuits were immediately brought against the State of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma Department of Health, and board members of the Oklahoma Department of Health for holding secret meetings which violated the Open Meetings Act and for interfering with the legal rights of the plaintiffs. In other words, the government was covertly changing the law that had been voted on by the electorate.
And, once again, SQ 788 prevailed.
“Oklahoma State Question 788, Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (June 2018)/Full article.” Ballotpedia. Web. Accessed 31 October 2018. https://ballotpedia.org/Oklahoma_State_Question_788,_Medical_Marijuana_Legalization_Initiative_(June_2018)/Full_article
Angell, T. “Oklahoma Voters Legalize Marijuana For Medical Use.” Forbes. 26 June 2018. Web. Accessed 31 October 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomangell/2018/06/26/oklahoma-voters-legalize-marijuana-for-medical-use/#21fe2bb21374
Murphy, S. “Oklahoma health department revised marijuana rules.” APNews. 27 July 2018. Web. Accessed 31 October 2018. https://www.apnews.com/44668d69099f497488d540d787ba844e
Murphy, S. “Oklahoma fast-tracking medical marijuana, but with pushback.” APNews. 10 July 2018. Web. Accessed 31 October 2018. https://apnews.com/48f40bdbeefb436abc83c59dc136b1fe
Wingerter, M. “Pro-marijuana group sues Fallin over Rx pot rules.” Newok. 13 July 2018. Web. Accessed 31 October 2018. https://newsok.com/article/5601264/first-lawsuit-filed-over-oklahoma-medical-marijuana
Schlosser, E. “Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market.” Web. Accessed 31 October 2018. https://books.google.com/books?id=_H8rvssxAsAC&pg=PA28&dq=marijuana+oklahoma&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwATgKahUKEwiU3t3Zze_IAhUInBoKHV5wB3w#v=onepage&q=marijuana%20oklahoma&f=false