The cannabis community achieved a major victory on June 26th when Oklahoma voters passed its Question 788 medical marijuana initiative by a strong 57% to 43% margin in a low turnout primary election. Reefer Madness prohibitionists can cruelly and stubbornly fight medical measures all they want, even disparaging patients by putting quotes around medical (i.e. “medical” marijuana), but they know that medicinal use passing in a deeply conservative state like Oklahoma proves that voters aren’t falling for their Reefer Madness hysteria any longer. Apparently, the Sooner State passing Question 788 did indeed cause some prohibitionists to lose their freaking minds.
If you haven’t been following the implementation of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis law, well, it has been one long, strange trip already (in just one month since the law’s passage). First, Governor Mary Fallin was accused of seeking to undermine the law, which she opposed. Then, the Oklahoma State Health Department issued ridiculous rules that outlawed smokeable marijuana, imposed THC limits, prohibited dispensaries from 1,000 feet of any church, and mandated that dispensaries have a pharmacist on duty. Activists rightly threatened to sue the state.
The Health Department’s General Counsel, Julie Ezell, opposed some of the overly burdensome restrictions (but not the employing-a-pharmacist provision, more on that in a second) and told the department that they were overstepping their authority. Ezell then got caught sending herself threatening emails posing as medical marijuana supporters, resigned, and was charged with criminal offenses. Then, the Oklahoma Board of Pharmacy fired its executive director, Chelsea Church, for attempting to bribe Ezell to help pass rules favorable to pharmacists. Several of Ezell’s policy positions (not her decision to send herself hoax emails or the mandatory hiring of pharmacists) were found to be correct, and the Oklahoma Attorney General advised the health department that the agency did indeed overstep its authority.
Thankfully, as Tulsa World reports, some sanity has been brought to Oklahoma’s medical cannabis law as new draft rules have reversed the overly burdensome regulations:
The Board of Health, the state agency tasked with evaluating and adopting the rules by the statutory deadline, released on Friday a new draft of the rules that seems to do away with much of the controversy stirred after the board’s July 10 vote.
Among the most noteworthy changes are the removal of sections prohibiting dispensaries from selling product that could be smoked and a definition that would have required licensed pharmacists to serve as dispensary managers.
Also changed in the new draft:
• No THC limits would be imposed on cultivators.
• Dispensaries would be able to sell on Sundays.
• Doctors would not be required to issue pregnancy tests for female patients seeking medical marijuana recommendations; the new rules would only ask that the doctors ascertain a woman’s pregnancy status.
• Churches would be removed from the section stating that medical marijuana businesses may not be located within 1,000 feet of a school.
Oklahoma’s experience with medical marijuana, just a month after voters passed Question 788, and before the law has even been implemented, provides some valuable lessons for advocates and industry participants alike. First of all, don’t send yourself hoax emails. Know that there are going to be regulatory hurdles placed in your way. Finally, be persistent and keep fighting for your ideals and the will of the voters.
Congratulations to Oklahoma patients and advocates for achieving another big victory with these draft rules. There will certainly be more obstacles in the future, but it is always good to celebrate victories to keep from burning out and to maintain momentum. It appears that legalization advocates are close to placing an adult-use cannabis law on the ballots this November. I would be surprised if Oklahoma voters are ready to end prohibition for all adults in 2018, before medical even gets implemented, and feel that 2020 is the better bet. But who knows, as strange things have happened in the Sooner State.
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