By Phillip Smith
One of the reddest of red states is set to go green later this month. Voters in Oklahoma will go to the polls on the 26th to decide whether to support the Question 788 medical marijuana initiative, and all indications are that it will win.
The state’s Sooner Poll showed support for the initiative at 57.5%last week. That’s down slightly from January when the same poll had support at 61%, but still enough to pull off a victory at the polls later this month, especially given the limited organized opposition to it so far.
One opposition group, Oklahomans Against 788, has a Facebook page, but according to state campaign finance reports, has only collected a paltry $755 — and from only two donors. The two political action committees supporting the initiative, Oklahomans for Health and Yes on 778, on the other hand, have raised more than $31,000 and have more than $9,000 in the bank for media buys this month. (Oklahoma isn’t a huge media market.)
Newly emerging opposition from conservative religious figures is probably too late to make a difference, but a group calling itself Oklahoma Faith Leaders, whose head is a former consultant to Oklahoma Republican US Senator James Lankford, enlisted Lankford to issue a press release last week warning that the initiative would be “harmful to the social fabric of Oklahoma.”
Lankford went on to blame outside agitators with hidden agendas: “This state question is being sold to Oklahomans as a compassionate medical marijuana bill by outside groups that actually want access to recreational marijuana,” Lankford added. “Most of us have seen first-hand the damage done to families and our communities from recreational marijuana use.”
It’s unclear just what “damage done” Lankford was referring to, but the initiative does not legalize recreational marijuana, and if any “outside groups” are involved, it is certainly not evident from the campaign finance reports.
Instead of sending Oklahoma on the path to perdition, passing the initiative would bring the state up to speed with most of the rest of the country. Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana, while another 15 states have laws allowing the use of CBD cannabis oil for medicinal purposes.
The Oklahoma initiative is a full-fledged medical marijuana measure, which would allow patients to grow their own medicine, create a system of licensed dispensaries, cultivation, and processing facilities; set taxes at a relatively low 7%, and bar localities from using zoning laws to block dispensaries (although they wouldn’t be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school).
It’s the culmination of a long, arduous effort to legalize medical marijuana in the Sooner state. For years, the Republican-dominated state legislature has refused to move on the issue, instead grudgingly approving only clinical trials of CBD cannabis oil for minors suffering from epilepsy in 2015. The following year the legislature removed the age cap and expanded the trials to include other diseases and conditions. But it has refused to go any further, including this year, when a much more limited medical marijuana bill, Senate Bill 1120, died in March for lack of support.
The initiative itself has faced a similarly arduous path. Originally aimed at the November 2016 ballot, the measure successfully gathered the required signatures in the summer of 2016, and they were verified in September 2016. But the date of signature submission, a rewrite of the ballot title required by state officials, and the court battle that followed meant the measure didn’t make the 2016 ballot. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oklahomans for Health in March 2017, and Gov. Mary Fallin (R) nine months later proclaimed that the initiative would appear on the June 2018 primary election ballot.
That’s the first time since 2005 that an Oklahoma governor selected a date different from the general election for an initiative. Now, despite it being an off-off-year primary election, Oklahomans will finally have a chance to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states. But they’re going to have to actually go out and vote to make it happen.