Marijuana legality is one of the most debated topics when it comes to drugs in the United States. In fact, President Donald Trump signed a bill into law in late December that legalized industrial hemp for commercial use. While use of psychoactive marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, many states have elected to pass laws that legalized the medical and even recreational use of the drug.
Currently, 33 states have medical marijuana available while 10 have recreational marijuana legalized. The recreational and medical marijuana movements have gained steam in recent years, with Washington and Colorado being the first two states to legalize the recreational use of the drug and many states following suit in subsequent years. Similarly, decriminalization of marijuana has been more popular in recent years with many states choosing to give perpetrators a fine rather than jail time for use of the drug.
Oklahoma is one state that has jumped on the bandwagon. The marijuana laws in Oklahoma changed recently as voters approved State Question 788 which legalized medical marijuana in the state. The law was passed on June 26, 2018 and became effective one month later. The law that the citizens approved also pushed for decriminalization of marijuana possession.
Criminalization and Legalization
The first overarching law that applied to marijuana in Oklahoma was a larger trend that banned the drug in 1933. However, this changed slightly in 2015.
Before SQ788, there were small steps that pointed that medical marijuana may be on the way in Oklahoma. One example of this is in 2015 when Gov. Mary Fallin signing a bill that allowed medical trials of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive component of marijuana that is known for its medical benefits. Fallin said it would give researchers the opportunity to study how CBD can help children with epilepsy.
“The bill will help get sick children potentially life-changing medicine,” Fallin said.
This bill would lay the groundwork for State Question 788 which was voted on in June of 2018. The measure passed by a 57 to 43 percent margin. Essentially, SQ788 legalized marijuana across the state.
Despite SQ788 being primarily a medical marijuana law, a possession provision in the amendment mandated a $400 fine for marijuana users who have 1.5 ounces and who do not have a medical license. Essentially, the the passage of the medical marijuana amendment was also effective in decriminalizing simple possession of the drug in the state.
Previously, Oklahoma had passed State Question 780 which changed drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Oklahoma House Majority Floor Leader John Echols, R-Oklahoma City, told Tulsa World that to aggressively prosecute simple marijuana possession was counterintuitive to what the people voted on.
“The citizens have now told us twice they don’t want nonviolent drug offenders going to prison,” Echols said.
While laws on possession of marijuana has become more lenient over recent years, there are still harsh penalties for other violations like trafficking. According to the Oklahoma Drug Statutes Chart, trafficking marijuana carries a $25,000 to $100,000 fine for trafficking 25 to 1000 lbs and a $100,000 to $500,000 fine and a fifteen year minimum prison sentence for trafficking more than 1000 lbs. Similarly, for more than two offenses, trafficking carries a life without parole sentence.
Medical marijuana is a hotly debated topic across the country among politicians and the medical community. According to the federal government, marijuana is a Schedule I drug on the Controlled Substances Act. This means that the federal government sees no medical benefits of marijuana and sees it as a drug with high potential for abuse. However, state governments have challenged this sentiment. In fact, articles on Harvard Medical School’s website, show that there are some medical benefits to using marijuana, specifically CBD.
“It is quite effective for the chronic pain that plagues millions of Americans, especially as they age,” Peter Grinspoon, MD, wrote for Harvard. “Part of its allure is that it is clearly safer than opiates (it is impossible to overdose on and far less addictive)”
The article goes on to mention that marijuana is an effective form of pain management for multiple sclerosis, and nerve pain in general. It is also used as muscle relaxant with an ability to lessen tremors in Parkinson’s disease. The article mentions benefits for other illnesses like nausea, glaucoma, and fibromyalgia.
Still, the debate is ongoing.
State Question 788 allowed for the use of medical marijuana and became effective in July of 2018.
Following the passage of State Question 788, medical marijuana became a state policy and five months later, 24,000 patients had been licensed by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, and more than 2,000 business licenses were granted.
SQ788 included a number of provisions for licensed medical marijuana patients. SQ788 allowed patients to:
- Consume marijuana legally
- Legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana
- Legally possess six mature marijuana plants
- Legally possess six seedling plants
- Legally possess one ounce of concentrated marijuana (wax, oil etc.)
- Legally possess 72 ounces of edible marijuana
- Legally possess up to eight ounces of marijuana in their residence
As mentioned before it also said that anyone found with up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana who did not have a state medical marijuana license were subject to a fine not to exceed $400.
It should also be mentioned that the measure established a seven percent tax on retail medical marijuana sales, the proceeds of which will primarily be applied to finance the regulatory office. However, if taxes exceed the budgeted amount for the regulatory office, 75% of the surplus will be used for common education with the remaining being used by the Oklahoma State Department of Health for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
There was a controversy that followed the passage of SQ788. In order for the law to be interpreted properly, the Oklahoma Board of Health was tasked with approving emergency rules that would ensure a proper start to the state’s medical marijuana program. However, this gave the board the authority to make changes to SQ788 in the emergency rules. Governor Mary Fallin signed off on amendments that the board passed which required a pharmacist in every dispensary and prohibited smokable forms of marijuana from being sold to patients. However, the rules were challenged by Attorney General Mike Hunter and the amendments were eventually rescinded.
Despite the emerging popularity of medical marijuana in the state, because of federal law, there are still details that Oklahomans should be aware of. For example, federal law deters many banks from engaging in business with dispensaries, because of this many medical marijuana shops only accept cash. Also, while it is legal for patients to have a certain amount of marijuana on their person, it is still illegal to be under the influence of the drug while driving. Similarly, despite the fact that possession of some marijuana and marijuana plants is legal for medical marijuana patients, there are still limits to this.
Recreational Marijuana Efforts
An effort to place recreational marijuana on Oklahoma’s general election ballot for this past November did not reach the ballot. While supporters of the initiative were able to gather about 103,000 signatures they fell more than 20,000 signatures short to get the question on the ballot. The initiative would have amended the state constitution to allow adults over the age of 21 to legally use marijuana.
However, to get the initiative on the ballot in the future it will require more signatures because of the high voter turnout in the most recent November election. Previously, to get an amendment to the state constitution on the ballot it required almost 124,000 signatures, it will now require just under 178,000 signatures.
There are a number of pro-marijuana advocates that are fighting to bring this issue to the ballot, one of the biggest supporters of this is Green the Vote, who were responsible for obtaining most of the 103,000 signatures. However, in August, Isaac Caviness, the president of the marijuana advocacy group chose to step down from Green the Vote, this came after Caviness admitted to inflating the signature counts his organization had collected.
In August, Caviness said that his organization had not only reached the signature goal but had even surpassed it.
“When we came out with the first numbers, they were low,” Caviness said. “[Dody Sullivan and I] had a crisis of conscience over it, but we both felt like it was what needed to be done to try make sure that we did not lose momentum.”
However, according to Sullivan, a former administrator for Green the Vote, inflating the numbers was Caviness idea.
Medical marijuana was first passed in the Colorado in 2000 when the state constitution was amended. But, few patients used medical marijuana until federal law ceded jurisdiction of marijuana enforcement to state law enforcement in 2009. Eventually, Colorado citizens voted in favor of legalizing the retail sale, purchase, and possession of marijuana for residents and visitors over the age of 21 in 2012.
The full effects of legalizing marijuana in Colorado will not be fully realized for some time, but there are some thing that have been measured. For instance, the state’s Department of Revenue released data regarding marijuana sales which show sales of recreational marijuana has exceeded a billion dollars. From January to October in 2017, sales in the state reached over $1.2 billion.
Over 34,000 Colorado citizens have licenses to work in the recreational marijuana industry, with licenses to work in the recreational marijuana industry. Not only has the industry created tens of thousands of jobs, but marijuana businesses have generated over $600 million in state taxes since 2014, with the first $40 million every year going directly to building and renovating public schools.
It is clear that legalizing marijuana in Colorado has led to a number of positive economic effects.
However, this doesn’t mean that there are not some negative consequences of legalizing recreational marijuana. In fact, the state actually covers a lot of the problems associated with cannabis on their website. One of the health risks that they bring up is the possibility of addiction for some marijuana users.
The Colorado government said that some people become addicted to marijuana when they can’t stop or control their marijuana intake and it interferes with their daily life. Another issue that they bring up is the danger of youth and adolescent use of marijuana. Their website brings up the fact that the brain doesn’t finish developing until the age of 25, and for the best chance of reaching full mental potential, youth and adolescents shouldn’t use marijuana. It also mentioned that youth who start using marijuana at an early age are more likely to get addicted and more likely to use alcohol and other drugs later in life.
Similarly, since legalization, there have been an increase in health care visits for pure marijuana intoxication. Some symptoms associated with this are anxiety, panic attacks, vomiting, and other nonspecific symptoms. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the University of Colorado’s emergency departments see about 2000 patients a week, one or two of which are there solely for marijuana intoxication and another 10 to 15 for marijuana-associated illnesses.
While Colorado, and many other states, have legalized recreational marijuana over the past few years, there is more that needs to be done in Oklahoma before a measure like that would pass in the state.
While the debate over the medical benefits of marijuana still rages on, many states are passing measures that legalize the medical use and even recreational use of the drug. Oklahoma is one of the more recent states to adopt marijuana for its medical use. While there are efforts from many pro-marijuana groups to get recreational marijuana on the ballot, it was unable to land a spot in the November election. Despite the medical benefits that marijuana may have, it is important to note that marijuana can still have negative effects, including addiction. If you believe that you or a loved one is dealing with a substance use disorder, including marijuana or alcohol, please reach out to our admissions staff at Landmark Recovery.