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Contrasting opinions

Lawrence Pasternack and Darrell Carnes argue the merits and weaknesses of State Question 806, which is now State Question 807.

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 Nowhere have the debates been more rampant about the pros and cons of State Question 807, formerly State Question 806, than on social media. Lawrence Pasternack of the Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance shares his views on the positive aspects of SQ807, while Darrell Carnes of 788 Media Group argues that this constitutional amendment is the wrong move for the state of Oklahoma and its cannabis program. Both submitted their completed blind responses on Jan. 15.

Lawrence Pasternack - ALEXA ACE
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  • Lawrence Pasternack

Lawrence Pasternack

My understanding is that there are three main objections to SQ807: (1) it does not address the current problems with our medical program; (2) it is a covert attempt by “big cannabis” to take over the Oklahoma market; and (3) as a constitutional measure, it might become a burden once federal law changes.

With regard to (1), I certainly agree that our medical program should be the priority. I have communicated this with the measure’s authors. Their response was that 807 cannot address the medical program without the risk of violating single-subject.

With regard to (2), a covey of individuals on social media are promulgating the theory that Privateer Holdings (a U.S. company), affiliated with Tilray (a Canadian company), are ultimately behind SQ807. They seem to believe this because Privateer donated money to New Approach, the national anti-prohibition group that might help fund the petition. Yet Privateer’s donations amount to roughly 2 percent of all the monies New Approach has ever received.  By contrast, about 50 percent comes from Van Ameringen Foundation, a charity devoted to mental healthcare for the poor, and 15 percent from Good Ventures, again a charity devoted to healthcare issues. Hence, it looks to me that their funding doesn’t have much connection to “big cannabis” but rather comes from wealthy donors who want to end cannabis prohibition. I’ve also seen on social media the claim that these donors (the so-called “billionaire backers”) are the evil cabal behind the state question. This, however, hardly tracks with their broader record of giving. Moreover, there are nine other states with petitions supported by New Approach, some medical, some full-access and one that is purely about social justice. Note also that SQ807’s key author is Ryan Kiesel, attorney for SQ788. I greatly doubt he has any nefarious intent.

Furthermore, consider what SQ807 allows. It enshrines in the Oklahoma Constitution the right (for those age 21 and older) to possess, use, grow, share, gift and keep an unlimited amount from one’s homegrown cannabis. By contrast, under our current program, it remains a felony for anyone to have more than 8 ounces at home, to share cannabis or to gift it. SQ807 also mandates that only existing medical businesses can get licenses for the first two years. Hence, it hardly seems plausible that “big cannabis” would fund a petition that locks them out of the market until late 2023 (by then federal law will likely have changed anyhow), never mind letting people grow at home and give their harvests away for free.

As for (3), the concern that SQ807 is a constitutional measure (as is similarly Florida, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, etc.), the question is whether it will impede Oklahoma when federal law changes. First, SQ807 can be removed by the Legislature putting a (partial or full) repeal on the ballot. Second, SQ807 allows Oklahoma Marijuana Authority to not impose any fines and allows the Legislature to reduce the tax rate. (Medical is exempt from these fines and taxes.) No doubt I would have preferred an explicit sunset provision, but our 181-page Constitution is already fat with unenforced detritus.

In sum, with the start of the new legislative session, this community has more immediate work at hand. But echoing the words of Jewish poet Emma Lazarus, none of us are free until all are free. While I concur that there are fair points of disagreement regarding strategy, the aim of New Approach is to bring cannabis prohibition to an end nationwide, and thus what SQ807 is ultimately about is pushing forward with that goal.

Lawrence Pasternack, Ph.D. is a patient advocate and one of the founders of Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance (okcla.org). He is also among the world’s leading specialists in Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of religion. Dr. Pasternack is a professor of philosophy and the director of the religious studies program at Oklahoma State University. The views here do not necessarily represent those of OSU.

Darrell Carnes - PROVIDED
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  • Darrell Carnes

Darrell Carnes

A less than transparent release to the public started the opposition against SQ806 and SQ807. A failed effort to hide information by Lawrence Pasternack’s nonprofit, Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance, and several of our industry’s most beloved advocates, recruited for its public release, solidified the state questions’ fates.

Carrying that level of influence, sharing the voice for us all, a certain standard of honesty is required. OCLA withheld disclosing the authors and backers and remained silent when asked anything about SQ806’s origin. So what were they hiding? Confirmed through leaked text messages, we discovered the authors were also trying to “keep quiet” to avoid legal contest deadlines. They didn’t allow for public comment or community input — a big red flag. Constitutional amendments are a permanent thing, not a scratchpad for figuring things out, and nearly impossible to change, yet a second version has been released as SQ807. Again, what were they hiding that we could not have any say in? Had the authors, backers or PAC’s funding partners been disclosed, SQ806 would have been dead on arrival in Oklahoma. A very “right-leaning” state vs. a very “left-leaning” policy maker, American Civil Liberties Union, altering the Oklahoma Constitution would not have sat well with voters. The authors and OCLA knew that. Otherwise, why not proudly claim your work capable of changing history? What were they hiding?

Based on findings and forced press releases, we learned SQ806 and SQ807 were authored by Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU Oklahoma, with ties to Michelle Tilley, a high-profile campaign manager, characterized for signature petitions paid for by big business. Why such big names, and who was funding those big names hiding this whole time? That led us to New Approach PAC.

Why weren’t you proud of your work, New Approach? Funding partners and donors of the PAC revealed ties not to Oklahomans, but rather billionaires, philanthropists and big investment groups. Funding was also linked to corporate giants such Privateer Holdings, which formed Tilray in 2013. Tilray is a 76 percent owner of Leafly today. Many continued to follow trails and discovered a lot more, but for many, that was enough.

These findings signaled that SQ807 was bad based on the grounds of out-of-state efforts and out-of-country funding, proof that non-Oklahomans were trying to influence and alter our state’s constitution. Is this a big-business takeover? For many, SQ807 represents a big-business agenda capable of wiping out thousands of mom-and-pops making up the number one medical marijuana program in the nation. Many of us believe SQ807 will make medical patients an afterthought to big recreational money. Pasternack will contest funding partners by their measurable level of contributions. He will tell you all of the good intentions and stories of these folks, as he believes them. However, we ask you this, Oklahoma — considering SQ806 was pulled and SQ807 is already the second version, look at the history of other states. Do you want this network of individuals, big business, nonprofits and out-of-state funding partners influencing your Oklahoma Constitution?

Darrell Carnes is the co-founder of 788 Media Group, a collective community of some of the state’s industry professionals and patient advocates. He founded Mary Jane Dispensary in Moore and has held free patient drives and contributed to community outreach projects on behalf of the cannabis industry as well as multiple avenues of patient advocacy.

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