State Question 788 fight intensifies as foes ramp up, supporters press for initiative on June 26 ballot
OKLAHOMA CITY – Opponents of State Question 788 intensified their efforts this past week, coalescing under the umbrella of a group called “SQ 788 is NOT medical.”
U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, made official his plans to vote no, joining a coalition of some 100 faith leaders against the proposal. Lankford said, in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations on (May 31), that he is concerned about possible impacts of the proposed law on families and the state economy.
“This state question is being sold to Oklahomans as a compassionate medical marijuana bill by outside groups that actually want access to recreational marijuana. Most of us have seen first-hand the damage done to families and our communities from recreational marijuana use,” the Sooner State’s most popular statewide elected official said.
“This is a moment when we should work to make our state stronger, healthier and more economically sound, not more drug addicted and distracted. No one will convince me that our families will be better if only more parents and grandparents smoke more marijuana.”
“We need to recognize State Question 788 for what it is – NOT medical marijuana,” said Rev. Paul Abner of the group called “Oklahoma Faith Leaders.” He said in comments sent to this reporter, “Under the language of the state question, marijuana can be prescribed to an 18-year-old complaining of a toothache. I’m against this bill – not because I don’t have compassion for people dealing with painful illnesses, but because of the broad nature of this bill and the drugs’ negative impact on our communities and families.”
Jed Green, speaking for the “Yes On 788” drive, said earlier last week, in a release sent to CapitolBeatOK, “Oklahomans deserve to know more than talking points about this issue ahead of their decision.”
Chip Paul of “Oklahomans for Health,” a group advocating for the proposal, strongly countered the comments of Sen. Lankford and other initiatiave opponents in comments to reporter Randy Ellis of The Oklahoman (in the Sunday, June 3 print edition).
The measure qualified for the ballot after a petition drive that ended in October 2016 came several weeks too late to land on that year’s November ballot. The first statewide election since then is the upcoming June 26 primary. In January, Governor Mary Fallin scheduled the S.Q. 788 for that ballot (http://city-sentinel.com/2018/01/oklahomans-will-vote-on-medical-marijuana-june-26/),
Fallin’s executive proclamation slotting the initiative for the primary election referenced the statutory measure (a proposed law, not a constitutional provision) this way: “The substance of the measure amends the Oklahoma Statutes to legalize the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes.”
“State Question 788 will do much more than offer a path to medical marijuana,” said Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, in his comments sent to CapitolBeatOK. “The way the measure is written, we believe it threatens far more unintended consequences than solutions. Medical marijuana is a serious policy proposal that requires thorough investigation and debate. We must oppose State Question 788 and any similar measure until full consideration can be given to this subject.”
Abner said that his group is concerned with the fact that in S.Q. 788, there is no medical illness requirement in order to obtain a prescription – so, the faith leaders’ group said, “an 18-year-old with a headache could receive a license to possess marijuana.”
Abner continued, “None of us can sustain the sound minds and healthy bodies God desires us to have when we place ourselves under the controlling influence of something other than his Spirit. If this state question passes, we have no ability to stop someone from using marijuana in public places, exposing even children to second-hand marijuana smoke, because it elevates the status of marijuana to a medicine.”
“State Question 788 is recreational marijuana disguised as medical marijuana and why we say this state question should absolutely not pass,” Abner concluded.
On the other side of the question, advocates for S.Q. 788 held an event called the Mid-America Medical Cannabis Conference and Expo, on June 1 and 2 in Oklahoma City. Medical Cannabis industry exhibitors from across the United States displayed technological advances utilized in “farming, processing, compounding and innovations,” The City Sentinel newpaper reported.
Addressing the conference, among several nationally-known speakers, were Oklahoma City residents Chip Paul, an activist supporter of the measure, and former U.S. Attorney Sanford Coates, who focused on federal legal provisions. Other speakers included business leaders, and doctors who believe in marijuana’s medical benefits.
An awards ceremony at the Friday/Saturday event acknowledged what sponsors considered excellence in support of Medical Cannabis.
The original summary language for the measure (printed on on the initiative petitions supporters of ballot access signed in 2016) described the intent as follows:
“This measure amends the Oklahoma State Statutes. A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes. A license is required for use and possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes and must be approved by an Oklahoma Board Certified Physician.
The State Department of Health will issue medical marijuana licenses if the application is eighteen years or older and Oklahoma resident.”
Among other developments, a new trade association, New Health Solutions Oklahoma, Inc., formed recent months to lay the basis for businesses that might be created if the controversial ballot intiative passed (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/new-trade-organization-working-with-business-and-medical-communities-to-develop-responsible-rules-an)
The substantial package of stories from reporter Ellis, for The Oklahoman, focused much space on the crucial emerging debate of specificity, or lack thereof, in allowance for use of Cannabis for medical purposes. (https://newsok.com/article/5596643/oklahomas-medical-marijuana-law-would-be-unique)
While the measure puts that responsibility on prescribing physicians, opponents say the measure is too open-ended and would become a bridge to recreational use.
Public opinion surveys have found strong support for S.Q. 788. However, in ballot initiative campaigns, as advertising intensifies, dramatic swings in public opinion are not uncommon.
NOTE: Patrick B. McGuigan is the author of “The Politics of Direct Democracy: Case Studies in Popular Decision Making (1985).” He has covered ballot initiatives and referenda since 1980. The first version of this news story misidentified a photograph of activist Chip Paul, one of the speakers at the weekend conference and expo. We apologize for the error.