Deeply conservative Oklahoma became the 30th U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana after voters approved a ballot initiative by a 57-43 margin on June 26. The move signaled new inroads among Bible Belt constituencies, where, by and large, state policies have restricted medical cannabis use to hemp-derived CBD products only.
(Neighboring Texas approved a restrictive low-THC medical cannabis law in 2015. Kansas, to the north, on the other hand, prohibits all uses of cannabis.)
“When you can get a large majority of the Democrats and independents and a third to a half of Republicans to support you, you can get anything passed in Oklahoma,” pollster Bill Shapard told PBS.
Now, Oklahoma’s conservative state government will spend the next 30 days designing medical marijuana regulations and setting up a marketplace for future sales.
Earlier in the week, the Oklahoma Department of Health submitted draft rules to the governor’s office and to the state legislature.
Department officials will meet July 10 to present those rules to the State Board of Health for further discussion. In short, some sort of medical marijuana information is expected to be made available to Oklahoma residents by July 26; applications will be accepted starting Aug. 25, tentatively.
It’s unclear how many medical dispensaries will be allowed statewide.
For now, the State Board of Health is working with a fairly broad set of rules in the SQ 788 ballot language. By way of example, opponents had suggested that SQ 788 might confer authority to any medical professional, including veterinarians, to recommend a patient use medical marijuana. Industry observers expect that the board will ensure that only board-certified medical doctors or osteopathic physicians be allowed to do so, according to newsok.com.
Gov. Mary Fallin, indeed, has reservations about the proposed medical framework described in SQ 788. She has also said she plans to call a special legislative session this summer to tighten the regulatory structure of the medical marijuana law.
“I will be discussing with legislative leaders and state agencies our options going forward on how best to proceed with adding a medical and proper regulatory framework to make sure marijuana use is truly for valid medical illnesses,” she tweeted after SQ 788 passed at the ballot.
As of now, though, the approved ballot measure will allow qualifying Oklahoma residents to grow and sell marijuana for any medical condition (the ballot language did not specify any qualifying conditions). Those who hold a medical marijuana card in Oklahoma will be allowed to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, six mature plants, six seedlings and as-yet-undefined amount of edibles or cannabis oil concentrate, according to preliminary ballot language.
Medical marijuana will be restricted to any patient 18 or older.
“The passage of State Question 788 highlights the strength and diversity of public support for laws allowing the medical use of marijuana,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a public statement. “Most Oklahomans agree that patients should be able to access medical marijuana safely and legally if their doctors recommend it. It is noteworthy that this measure passed in such a red state during a primary election, when voter turnout tends to be older and more conservative than during a general election. Support for medical marijuana is overwhelming, and it spans the political and demographic spectrums.”
The political makeup of Oklahoma is perhaps the most striking element of this ballot victory. The state favored Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election (65 percent of voters) over Hillary Clinton (29 percent). And past medical marijuana petition attempts in Oklahoma have come up short.
“We are pleased to see state officials are already working on developing a regulatory framework for medical marijuana, and we hope they will include patients, advocates, and other stakeholders in the process,” O’Keefe said. “It is important that patients have reliable access to the products that work best for their conditions. Oklahoma officials can learn a lot from the successes and shortcomings of other states’ programs, and hopefully they will create a system that will serve as an example for other states in the region.”
“In spite of a well-financed and misleading opposition campaign, Oklahoma voters proved that medical cannabis is no longer a controversial issue by enacting a sensible law at the ballot box tonight,” said Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “We applaud Oklahoma for joining the growing list of states that allow patients to legally access the medicine that works for them.”
Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock