Advocates of legal pot rally at Oklahoma state Capitol

OKLAHOMA CITY –State Senator Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park/Oklahoma City, wants to legalize marijuana for recreational and private use.

Just as a lengthy cold spell ends in the Sooner State, supporters have scheduled a state Capitol rally to support her efforts.

Senate Bill 2116 would allow individuals to possess up to an ounce of “pot,” and permit private growth of up to five cannabis plants.

The measure also would allow establishment of marijuana cultivation facilities which would be subject to fees and taxes.

Supporters assert the proposal would, if enacted, benefit rural and small economies with creation of a profitable “new” cash crop. They also want to end what they call poor use of public resources presently aimed at punishment of a victim-less “crime.”

An activist group deemed, the OK Coalition to End Prohibition, will gather mid-day Wednesday, (February 12) in support of S.B. 2116. The coalition’s release, promoting its rally, said Johnson’s bill could “create an economic boon like no other the state has seen.”

Senator Johnson told CapitolBeatOK, “Marijuana prohibition has been a disaster in Oklahoma as it has elsewhere in the country and it’s particularly hard on minorities. In our state, African-American residents are nearly three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white residents, even with similar levels of use. …

“As taxpayers, we’re spending over $30 million each year policing, jailing and incarcerating our citizens on marijuana-related offenses. Yet marijuana is almost universally available. It’s time for a smarter approach.”

Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, is respectful toward his liberal colleague, but at the start of the legislative session quipped to reporters that before shifting from opposition he would wait to see how Colorado’s “Rocky Mountain High” experiment with legalization works out.

Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, has opposed Johnson’s past efforts to ease pot penalties. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Select Agencies, he will preside over a hearing on medical marijuana Wednesday afternoon.

Advocates of Johnson’s measure include University of Central Oklahoma Professor Kurt Hochenauer, author of the “Okie Funk” political and cultural blog.

Pointing to the momentum favoring medical use of marijuana in some instances (the case in 20 states) and legalization experiments in Washington and Colorado, Hochenauer says it may become difficult for state leaders “to justify spending tax dollars to enforce archaic marijuana laws or send nonviolent people to prison for pot offenses.”

If enacted, which seems unlikely, Johnson’s decriminalization of marijuana for small-scale users might face challenge in the form of a referendum petition.

Johnson, now in her third and final term at the Legislature, and her allies point to the state’s high levels of incarceration, including lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenders, to help make their case.

The pro-pot coalition rallying at the Capitol claims growing public support, but Pat McFerron, one of the best-known state political consultants, says opposition to weakened marijuana laws remains fierce.

Among all those surveyed in the latest opinion poll, the February 2014 Sooner Survey, 59 percent were strongly opposed, with another six percent somewhat opposed. 

Only 30 percent were strongly or somewhat in favor of a Colorado-style approach to the issue.

In the Sooner Survey, an advance copy of which was provided to Oklahoma Watchdog, pollster McFerron found the closest divisions were among voters under the age of 45. While 52 percent in that group opposed allowing recreational use of pot, 45 percent favored it. The next closest division by age group was among those 55 to 64, with 43 percent in favor and “only” 53 percent in opposition.

McFerron’s poll was conducted for Cole Hargrave Snodgrass and Associates. McFerron said, “More Oklahomans strongly oppose legalization of marijuana than have a strongly unfavorable impression of Barack Obama (52 percent) and more oppose its legalization than have an unfavorable impression of the president (62 percent).”

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