- Photo provided
- Chad Moody, an OKC drug lawyer, said proposed constitutional amendments would prevent further restrictions on medical marijuana usage.
Regulatory actions following the June 26 approval of State Question 788, the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, appear to be shrouded in a cloud of special interests and bureaucratic deliberation. To ensure the will of the people is preserved, creators of a new initiative have since been actively petitioning to land State Questions 796 and 797 on the November ballot.
“796 is meant to protect the patients and patient rights,” said Isaac Caviness, president of Green the Vote, a prominent Tulsa-based marijuana activist group. “We modeled it after 788.”
A few modifications have been introduced to the measure, effectively distinguishing it from SQ788. These changes include but are not limited to requiring a second doctor to sign off on non-qualifying conditions, capping license fees to prevent overcharging patients and the requirement for a field sobriety test if an individual is suspected of impaired driving.
“We may need it,” said Norma Sapp, executive director of National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws in Oklahoma (NORML).
While she doesn’t like the idea of requiring two doctors’ signatures for a condition that isn’t considered to be qualified, she feels it’s a necessary step, provided SQ788 doesn’t go as planned.
Attorney Chad Moody, a drug lawyer practicing in Oklahoma City, feels SQ796 demonstrates a taste of “crony capitalism” by showing preference for liquor industry access to competitive growing licenses regarding a substance he believes is better off without amassing regulations.
“Oklahoma tends to pride itself on being a private, free-market, laissez-faire capitalism kind of a place,” Moody said. “Why can’t you just have your cannabis?”
SQ797, on the other hand, would allow citizens to use cannabis for recreational purposes. Colorado marijuana laws provided the framework for its authorship.
Despite SQ796 being the activists’ primary concern, SQ797 has garnered more support since its announcement.
“We did not realize we would get such an outpouring of support for recreational when we filed it,” Caviness said. “Instead of polling numbers, we needed to see hard numbers on where Oklahoma stood.”
Based on the figures he witnessed, Caviness believes “Oklahoma is absolutely ready for recreational.”
In contrast to SQ788, both SQ796 and SQ797 were filed as constitutional amendments, a strategic move that keeps lawmakers from tampering with the legislation originally approved by voters.
“With 788, they can literally rewrite it from beginning to end and there’s nothing that we can do about that,” Caviness said.
- Isaac Caviness / provided
- Petitions for State Questions 796 and 797 are due to the Secretary of State on Aug. 1.
The new amendments are intended to prevent unwarranted regulations that might otherwise be imposed on the measure, something activists have become all too familiar with since the passage of SQ788.
“Our lawmakers could wash it down to nothing,” Caviness said in regard to 788. “And the health department already showed that.”
The Oklahoma State Board of Health has since devised a new set of regulations on 788, making it increasingly more difficult for patients to access their medicine. Of the protocols, prohibiting the use of smokable marijuana appears to be the result of an ulterior motive at the expense of the patient.
“Well it won’t work for a cancer patient that’s throwing up, will it?” Sapp asked rhetorically. “They have to have immediate relief. [Police] have a right to search and figure out what’s going on if they just say they smell it. And so they don’t want that to change.”
Like Sapp, Moody spent time fighting for sensible marijuana legislation in the state’s political arena. According to him, the regulations are a final attempt to gratify what he calls “the law enforcement industrial establishment.”
“There’s so much damn money going to law enforcement in the form of forfeitures and fines and fees. … It’s all a shakedown,” Moody said.
The passage of SQ796 and SQ797 would put an end to the harsh regulations SQ788 is currently facing and will serve to protect citizens from unwanted provisions within the new law.
“You would think that there’s something about cannabis that makes it so inherently dangerous that it’s gotta have all this hyper-regulation. No,” Moody said. “There’s something dangerous about prohibition, which is what we’ve been doing all this time.”
Those in favor of SQ797 believe voting “no” would be a detriment to the economy.
“To continue to waste money incarcerating people for cannabis and ignoring all of the budget shortfalls that we’re having in every other area of our budget is just irresponsible,” Caviness said.
The anticipated tax revenue following the passage of SQ797 will instead be turned over to public interests and is expected to provide substantial fiscal gains.
“Recreational will absolutely change the face of Oklahoma’s economy and make Oklahoma’s economy boom again,” Caviness said.
SQ797 is earmarked to send 50 percent of retail sales tax to public education. Fifty percent of the excise tax between dispensaries and growers will be used to fund teacher compensation. The rest is left in the hands of the state Legislature to allocate the residual funds as they see fit.
Still, a significant portion of the state’s voter base remains in opposition to the idea of full cannabis legalization.
“I have not heard any good reasons why,” Caviness said. “I’ve been begging for good reasons why for six months now.”
Caviness often receives complaints from worried parents fearing the liberalization of cannabis laws will lead to an increase in use among the youth.
According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, marijuana use in children has dropped in all legal states, Alaska being the only exception.
Caviness also cites a worsening homeless problem as another common complaint.
“For people to say that marijuana is going to cause a homeless spike is ridiculous,” he said. “We already have one of the worst homeless problems in the nation.”
Caviness believes that, if anything, SQ797 could help the problem.
“Colorado has the tax revenue now that they’re actually building homeless shelters and giving these people an avenue to have a place to stay rather than be on the streets,” Caviness said.
Other arguments point to public safety concerns, citing health risks associated with smoke inhalation, despite some reports suggesting cannabis acts as an anti-carcinogen. A higher frequency of roadway collisions is another shared complaint.
“The National Highway Traffic Administration has long been disingenuous at best on this stuff,” Moody said.
He explained an accident will be classified as marijuana-related if one of the parties involved is found with the plant’s metabolites in his or her system, which might be present 30 days after using, even if that person wasn’t at fault or was “not one little bit high.”
Advocates stand firm on the notion that all the good anticipated to follow the approval of SQ796 and SQ797 will outweigh any negative consequences. The exact nature of those consequences has yet to be determined.
“It’s only because of 80 years of drug war propaganda that a lot of people are intuitively thinking that we gotta treat this stuff like nitroglycerin or something,” Moody said. “It’s just not dangerous.”
Despite needing only 124,000 signatures, Green the Vote aims to collect 150,000 before submitting the petitions to the Secretary of State on Aug. 1.