Voters in one of the reddest states in the nation approved one of the most far-reaching marijuana ballot measures on Tuesday, making Oklahoma the 30th state to legalize medical cannabis.
And while advocates and pro-legalization organizers in the state will tell you they weren’t necessarily surprised by the results—with polls consistently showing majority support in the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, for example—the initiative’s passage by a wide margin (57 percent to 43 percent) is still extraordinary.
In part, that’s because of the political landscape of Oklahoma. The state hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964, and its marijuana laws have historically reflected a staunch, prohibitionist mindset. Just four years ago, getting caught consuming cannabis in public twice could land you in prison for up to a decade.
But perhaps even more impressively, the initiative was decisively approved—during a midterm primary election—in spite of the fact that committees in support of State Question 788 were outspent by committees opposed to the measure six-to-one. According to the latest campaign finance records, Oklahomans for Health, which played a leading role in support of the initiative, and Yes On 788 spent a total of about $155,000 during their campaigns based on the latest campaign finance disclosure statements submitted June 26.
Committees opposed to the initiative, Oklahomans Against 788 and SQ Is NOT Medical spent a total of about $920,500 on their anti-legalization campaigns, some of which was used for television advertising against the measure. Supporters, on the other hand, did not have enough funds to go on the air with their message.
Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health, told Marijuana Moment that the group’s minimal spending “speaks volume for liberty, freedom, unity… because Oklahoma united around this and made it happen.”
There are no words to explain the pure joy that the organizers felt last night, so I can only imagine how happy those who NEEDED medical marijuana to function and to live happy and healthy lives feel at the news. Do not forget the things that can happen when we organize together.
— Yes on 788 (@yeson788) June 27, 2018
“It’s really a neat thing to be a part of and just to see—and man does it threaten the powers that be,” Paul said. “You look at the list of who was against us and it was churches, hospitals, physicians, chambers of commerce, big industry—basically everybody who you could identify as the old guard, so to speak.”
“When the people rise up and do something on their own, it does threaten the establishment.”
Unlike pro-legalization campaign committees advancing reform bids in many past state-level elections, Oklahomans for Health did not receive financial contributions from national advocacy groups such as Marijuana Policy Project or the Drug Policy Alliance. Paul said it was better that way because “it means more if we do this for $0 or $10,000.”
Another element of the group’s campaign efforts involved strategically avoiding divisive, partisan politics. While the initiative itself has been characterized as “liberal” because it doesn’t include a list of limited medical conditions that qualify individuals for cannabis, the issue at hand is increasingly bipartisan. A recent survey from the progressive think tank Center for American Progress found a record 68 percent of Americans favor recreational legalization, including 57 percent of Republicans. Support for medical marijuana legalization is even higher, with 93 percent of Americans in agreement that patients should be able to legally access the plant.
“For the most, we’ve managed to rise above things that would divide us,” Paul said.
Representatives from one of the leading groups that opposed SQ 788 did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. In a statement, the committee said members were “obviously disappointed by the outcome,” but that they “respect the will of the voters,” News9 reported.
What are the next steps for legal medical cannabis in Oklahoma?
Earlier this month, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said that she would arrange a special session with lawmakers to establish a regulatory system for the state’s new medical cannabis program in the event of the proposal’s passage. She restated her concerns about the initiative in a statement released shortly after the vote was called Tuesday night, arguing that the measure is “written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana.”
“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.”
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. https://t.co/CDLlhjb2fd
— Governor Mary Fallin (@GovMaryFallin) June 27, 2018
A date for the special session has not been set yet, but some lawmakers such as House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R) have suggested that applications for cultivation and dispensary licenses could be sent out as early as September.
“The citizens of the state have decided that they are in support of this law, so there aren’t necessarily any changes that need to be made,” he told News9.
Other officials expressed disappointment in the decision of Oklahoma voters to move forward with marijuana legalization. Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R) described the initiative as “horrific” and said “I totally disagree with the direction it took.”
— C2C Sinclair (@SBGC2C) June 27, 2018
Oklahoma’s interim health commissioner, Tom Bates, said the rules outlining the state’s medical marijuana program “will be ready according to the requirements of the law, which is scheduled to go into effect 60 days after passage,” the Associated Press reported. He added that the state Board of Health will consider “emergency rules” on July 10—and that information about applications for licenses will go out by July 26.
For its part, regulators at the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) announced in a statement that they are effectively prepared to move forward after creating a regulatory framework over the past three months. The state agency said it would “begin accepting applications no later than August 25.”
“The application process will be available at the required time and will be enhanced in the coming months to make it more efficient for all interested parties,” OMMA wrote. “It may take some time to fully implement all of the steps recommended in preparation for this new program, but we will continue to work to meet the letter of the law and to protect the health and safety of all Oklahomans.”
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Andrew Yang Wants To Legalize Psychedelic Mushrooms For Military Veterans
Andrew Yang says he wants to legalize psilocybin mushrooms for military veterans to help them combat mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
During a town hall event at an Iowa college on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked whether he would take initiative and allow veterans to access medical marijuana if elected. Yang replied he “will be so excited to be that commander-in-chief” that he would not only end federal cannabis prohibition but would go one step further by legalizing the psychedelic fungus for veterans as well.
“We need to get marijuana off of the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level, make it freely available,” he said. “I say this because I’ve talked to hundreds of veterans and other Americans who benefit from marijuana as a pain relief treatment, and it’s much less deadly than the opiates that many, many people are using for the same conditions.”
“I’ve talked to veterans who’ve also benefited from psilocybin mushrooms,” he added. “They said it was the only thing that actually has helped combat their PTSD. I’m for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for veterans as well. Pretty much if it’s going to help a veteran, we should make it easier, not harder, for them to get access to it.”
Yang’s drug policy reform platform is unique in that respect. While the majority of Democratic candidates support marijuana legalization, he’s pushed unique proposals such as decriminalizing possession of opioids and making psilocybin mushrooms “more freely available” for therapeutic purposes. The candidate also wants to invest federal funds in safe injection facilities where individuals can use prohibited drugs in a medically supervised environment and receive help getting into treatment.
He hasn’t gone so far as embracing the decriminalization of all drugs, as former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has, however.
That said, Yang did signal that he’s open to legalizing and regulating “certain drugs” beyond cannabis, which he argued would disrupt international drug cartels. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) recently said she backs “legalizing and regulating” currently illegal controlled substances to protect public safety and combat the illicit market.
At the Iowa town hall, Yang went on to say that he’s particularly interested in legalizing marijuana, and he again pledged to “pardon everyone who’s in jail for a non-violent marijuana-related offense because they shouldn’t be in jail for something that’s frankly legal in other parts of the country.”
“And I would pardon them all on April 20, 2021, high-five them on the way out of jail and be like, ‘things got a lot better in the last year,'” he said, referencing the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Photo element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Tom Steyer Calls For Marijuana Legalization And Opioid Decriminalization
Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is calling for the legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of opioid possession.
In a criminal justice reform plan released on Thursday, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate laid out a vision for ending the drug war, which he said has contributed to mass incarceration and is enforced in a racially disproportionate manner.
“Tom believes we must end the failed War on Drugs. Based on the flawed idea that incarceration is the answer to addiction, federal and state elected officials passed severe sentencing laws that encouraged incarceration for low-level drug offenses,” the plan states. “Unfortunately, communities of color were and continue to be disproportionately affected and targeted by these laws, even when other ethnicities were committing the same drug crimes at the same rates.”
Today @TomSteyer announced a new criminal justice plan to:
– Reform the juvenile system
– Improve prison conditions
– Redirect funds to education
– Eliminate cash bail
– Release more rehabilitated people
– End the war on drugs
And much more! 👉 https://t.co/3VYRw7ioXB
— TeamTom 🌎 (@TomHQ) January 24, 2020
There are six proposals in the drug war section, including legalizing cannabis and expunging prior marijuana convictions, ending mandatory minimum sentences and empowering judges to use more discretion in non-violent drug cases, diverting people convicted of drug offenses to treatment or drug court, ending the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, sealing the records of certain drug convictions and decriminalizing opioids while investing $75 billion in treatment programs and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable.
Steyer specifically endorsed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-NY) Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would deschedule cannabis, expunge prior convictions and set aside tax revenue to support communities most impacted by the drug war.
“Policing marijuana use has led to too many unfair incarcerations and predominantly impacted communities of color,” the plan says. It also criticizes then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s 2018 move on “repealing leniency given to states for marijuana laws.”
Today, I'm meeting with formerly incarcerated individuals to talk about transforming the criminal justice system through police accountability, ending cash bail, providing adequate funding to re-entry programs, and so much more. pic.twitter.com/m9lDEKWwwU
— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) January 23, 2020
“A Steyer Administration will also open equitable pathways to banking for marijuana businesses,” it continues. “The federal government—including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation—should not be a barrier to marijuana businesses receiving support from their local banks.”
“Incarceration is not the answer to addiction, and low-level drug offenses should not carry a severe sentence. Tom will legalize marijuana, let states pass their own policies, expunge past records, and direct the federal government to open banking services to the marijuana industry. Tom’s administration will end the disparity between crack and cocaine sentences, decriminalize opioid possession, and invest $75 billion to address the opioid crisis.”
The opioid decriminalization proposal is similar to that of entrepreneur Andrew Yang, another 2020 candidate who said removing criminal penalties for possessing the substance is necessary in order to help get people into treatment and curb the opioid crisis. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) have gone further, calling for the decriminalization of all drug possession and, in Gabbard’s case, also the legalization and regulation of illicit drugs.
“Tom supports decriminalizing small amounts of opioid possession for personal use at the federal level,” the plan states. “He will address the opioid crisis through $75 billion in new funding over ten years to resource state and local treatment programs, hold big pharmaceutical corporations and their executives accountable, and strongly enforce laws that end the illicit distribution and sale of opioids.”
This is a notable development for Steyer, who hasn’t discussed drug policy reform as much as many other candidates in the race and whose views on decriminalization of substances beyond marijuana were previously unknown.
Last year, Steyer said he supported creating a national referendum process so that Americans can made decisions about a wide range of policy issues, including cannabis legalization.
He also previously discussed his support for ending marijuana prohibition and providing the industry with access to banking, saying that he and his wife wanted to provide financial services to minority- and women-owned cannabis firms through their community bank, but federal prohibition means the business would be put at risk if they did that.
Steyer’s new plan also calls for juvenile justice reform, ending cash bail, banning facial recognition technology in policing, demilitarizing law enforcement, improving prison conditions and eliminating the death penalty, among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of Flickr/Gage Skidmore.
Austin City Council Approves Measure To End Most Marijuana Arrests
The decision to back away from pursuing criminal charges against people with small amounts of pot comes after state lawmakers last year legalized hemp in a way that threw marijuana prosecution into chaos.
The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.
The resolution directing Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. Of about 20 people who spoke on the resolution, only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday was against it.
The council’s resolution states that it stems directly from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp. Last summer, following a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Joint Effort: #ATXCouncil takes steps to eliminate the use of arrest or other enforcement action for low-level cannabis-related possession offenses + ensure City resources are focused on citizens’ public safety priorities. View the draft resolution: https://t.co/qNJ6L2ZPjJ. pic.twitter.com/rdwiLjx0w8
— City of Austin (@austintexasgov) January 23, 2020
All of a sudden, some district attorneys were dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and not accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if something was marijuana anymore. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have dropped by more than half. And numerous Texas prosecutors, including those in Austin’s Travis County, require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.
Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.
Even in places where police don’t have or aren’t spending funds on such testing and new cases aren’t being accepted by prosecutors, people are still being cited or arrested. They are sometimes taken to jail but then released with no charges being pursued. Austin police said this month that they still arrest or cite people who are suspected of possessing marijuana.
This resolution changes that, directing the city to get as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession.
The measure prohibits spending city funds on testing in low-level possession cases, and it directs police not to arrest or cite people in such cases — unless there is a safety concern — if they know the district attorney will automatically reject the charges or testing won’t be approved. It clarifies that lab testing can be used for suspected felonies or when the cannabis is not for personal use, like trafficking cases. A revised version also specifies that the measure will not affect toxicology testing.
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