Voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot measure making the state the 30th in the nation to allow broad access to medical marijuana.
The proposal, which passed by a 57% to 43% margin on Tuesday, will allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any medical condition they see fit.
Most other state medical marijuana laws delineate a specific list of diseases and disorders for which physicians can authorize patients’ participation.
The approval of such a far-reaching marijuana proposal in a deeply red state like Oklahoma — during a midterm primary election, no less — is a clear sign of the mainstream political support that cannabis reform now enjoys.
The campaign didn’t appear to have significant funding from major national drug policy reform groups that have helped to pass measures in other states over several past election cycles. It also faced an opposition that poured roughly half a million dollars into television ads seeking to undermine support for medical marijuana.
But the initiative was approved anyway, suggesting that cannabis politics have now evolved to the point where voters in places like Oklahoma don’t necessarily need to be convinced to support reform proposals when they are placed on the ballot.
Nationally, polling shows that more than 90% of voters support medical cannabis , with roughly two-thirds backing recreational marijuana legalization.
“Public support for medical marijuana access is non-partisan,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a statement. “Even in a predominantly ‘red’ state like Oklahoma, it is the will of the voters to enact common sense, yet significant marijuana law reforms.”
Under the new Oklahoma law as drafted, legal patients will receive state ID cards and be allowed to possess three ounces of cannabis in public, and store up to eight ounces at home.
Home cultivation of six mature plants and six seedlings is allowed, as is possession of up to one ounce of cannabis concentrates and 72 ounces of marijuana-infused edible products. Patients could also designate a caregiver to purchase or grow medicine for them.
The new law would also add some level of protection for medical cannabis patients who don’t go through the step of getting a state-issued identification card. People who are caught with 1.5 ounces or less of marijuana and can “state a medical condition” would face a misdemeanor offense punishable by no more than a $400 fine.
The state would issue licenses for medical cannabis cultivation, processing, transportation and dispensing businesses, and a 7% retail tax would be applied to medical cannabis sales. Revenue would first go toward covering implementation and regulation costs, with the remainder funding education as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.
Any of these provisions are subject to change, however, and there are indications that they may be amended soon.
Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said last week that she was prepared to call lawmakers into a special legislative session this summer to address provisions which, in her view, essentially allow “recreational marijuana in the state of Oklahoma.”
And in a statement on Tuesday night, the governor said she “respect[s] the will of the voters in any question placed before them to determine the direction of our state” but that “it is our responsibility as state leaders to look out for the health and safety of Oklahoma citizens.”
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
In the lead up to the vote, the measure faced vocal opposition from Fallin and from other popular officials like U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R), who appeared in a television ad urging voters to reject medical marijuana. Groups like the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association and the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association also campaigned against legalization.
In another challenge for supporters, several Oklahoma voters reported in social media posts that they had been given ballots that did not include the medical marijuana question.
“It is noteworthy that this measure passed in such a red state during a primary election, when voter turnout tends to be older and more conservative than during a general election,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Support for medical marijuana is overwhelming, and it spans the political and demographic spectrums.”
There was a chance the medical marijuana measure could have appeared before Oklahoma voters during the 2016 general election but, because a dispute over its ballot title with then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt—who now heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—wasn’t settled in time by the state Supreme Court, consideration was delayed.
Fallin placed the measure on the June 26 primary ballot, which some advocates viewed as an effort to sink its chances because turnout dynamics are typically more favorable for cannabis proposals during general elections when young people and other demographics that are more favorable to reform are more likely to vote.
Oklahoma, like more than a dozen other states that don’t have comprehensive medical marijuana programs, already has a law allowing limited access to non-psychoactive cannabis extracts that are used to treat severe seizure disorders and other conditions.
Several other states are expected to see measures to legalize recreational marijuana or allow medical cannabis on their November ballots.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.
State Treasurers Group Endorses Marijuana Banking Legislation
A group representing state treasurers and finance officials is formally calling on Congress to pass legislation allowing marijuana businesses to more readily store their profits in banks.
The National Association of State Treasurers adopted a resolution on Friday announcing that the organization “supports common sense federal laws and regulations to provide essential banking services to state legalized cannabis businesses, promote public safety and financial transparency, and facilitate local, state and federal tax and fee collection.”
The measure, which makes clear that the group “takes no position as to whether cannabis should be legalized under the laws of the United States or of any state,” highlights the public safety issues caused by current federal policy, which makes many financial services providers reluctant to work with the marijuana industry.
“Lacking banking services, many legal cannabis businesses operate solely in cash,” it says. “Cash-based systems are inefficient, expensive, and opaque, making illicit activity more difficult to track and posing a significant risk to public safety by increasing the likelihood of violent crime.”
The status quo also causes headaches for regulators, the group argues.
“Whereas, unbanked cannabis businesses are unable to write checks, make and receive electronic payments, utilize payroll providers, accept debit or credit cards, or pay taxes through a financial institution, tax collection is more difficult and burdensome for both businesses and governments, and the potential for tax fraud is substantially increased,” the resolution states.
The group’s endorsement, which was led by Oregon State Treasurer Tobias Read and Utah Treasurer Damschen, follows a letter on the issue that 17 state treasurers signed earlier this month.
“This was an ongoing, thoughtful conversation the Association has been having for the last two years,” Read told Marijuana Moment. “The majority of states have legalized medical or recreational cannabis, and need to have safe banking options for these businesses. I hope that Congress will recognize that this public safety issue is bi-partisan and will create safer communities.”
The move by treasurers’ organization also comes after the National Association of Attorneys General, which represents the top law enforcement officials at the state level, issued a similar endorsement.
Legislation to protect banks from being punished by federal regulators for working with marijuana businesses is gaining momentum in Congress.
In March, the House Financial Services Committee approved a cannabis banking bill in a bipartisan vote of 45 to 15. The legislation, which is awaiting a vote on the House floor, now has 182 cosponsors. A companion Senate bill has 28 senators signed on.
In the meantime, the National Association of State Treasurers is urging the Trump administration to keep in place Obama-era guidance meant to provide some level of clarity and comfort to banks interested in working with the cannabis industry.
“NAST supports financial law enforcement authorities’ consistent interpretation of the FinCEN guidance and, barring changes to federal law, the continued application of the guidance to allow some financial institutions to offer banking services to the state legalized cannabis industry,” the resolution says.
Texas Senate Committee Approves House-Passed Medical Marijuana Expansion Bill
Even as the Senate stonewalls a handful of bills aimed at lessening criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, an upper chamber committee on Friday advanced legislation that aims to vastly expand who has access to medical cannabis in the state.
As filed, state Rep. Stephanie Klick’s House Bill 3703 would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for cannabis oil. The progress on her bill comes four years after Klick authored legislation that narrowly opened up the state to the sale of the medicine.
The bill requires approval by the full Senate chamber before it can return to the Texas House, where lawmakers have already approved two bills to drastically expand the Compassionate Use Program, which currently only allows the sale of cannabis oil to people with intractable epilepsy who meet certain requirements. But according to the Senate sponsor of the bill, the legislation is likely to pass the upper chamber — despite leadership once expressing aversion to relaxing the existing state program.
Several who testified before the Senate committee pleaded with the panel to advance the bill, sharing personal stories of how using cannabis oil has helped them treat a bevy of medical ailments. Lawmakers from both parties were receptive to the emotional testimony and, after more than an hour of discussion, voted unanimously to send the legislation to the full Senate.
When laying out the bill in front of the Senate committee Friday, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, introduced a reworked version of the measure which further expanded which Texans have access to the medicine. In addition to the conditions already outlined by Klick, those with other illnesses like seizure disorders, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, terminal cancer and autism would also be eligible to obtain the medicine. The version of the bill Campbell laid out also eliminated what she called an “onerous requirement” that those wanting access to the medicine get the approval of two licensed neurologists.
Under Campbell’s version of the bill, the Texas Department on Public Safety would still have oversight of the Compassionate Use Program. Her revised bill also keeps intact the 0.5% cap on the amount of the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC that medical cannabis products are legally allowed to contain.
“For many patients in the [Compassionate Use Program], participation in the program has been life altering,” Campbell said. “These people are our friends, our family, our neighbors. Members of our churches and in our communities have benefitted from this.”
Multiple Texans who either currently use the medicine, or felt they could benefit from access to it, spoke before the Senate committee.
“Before CBD, I had 200 seizures a day lasting 15 to 30 seconds,” said Brenham resident Julia Patterson. “It affected my grades and my social life. I couldn’t play sports. I couldn’t go to sleepovers. … After CBD oil, I’m now one year seizure free. I have my driver’s license and I’m finishing the school year with A’s.”
Still, there was a small show of opposition from a handful of parents and veterans who said they wished the legislation was more broad and included conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
State Sen. José Menéndez, a San Antonio Democrat who filed a medical expansion bill this legislative session that never got hearing, raised questions about the potential shortfalls of Klick’s bill.
“What happens if the Legislature does not address PTSD in this bill? What do you think is going to be the impact?” Menéndez asked Keith Crook, a retired Air Force veteran who testified on the bill.
“I’m going to bury more of my friends because this medicine saved my life,” Crook responded. “And there are people who don’t have the ability to access it or will be refused access to it because of a law.
“I’m a criminal. I use everyday. But I’m just trying to stay alive and do the right thing.”
Nearing the end of the testimony, Campbell implied that it would take more than one legislative session before Texas further expanded the number of conditions who qualify for the medicine in order to prevent “unintended consequences.”
“Anybody who watches a football game is going to root for their team and be happy when they at least get a first down,” Campbell said. “We would like to be able to include so many more diagnoses. This is more certainly a more expanded list and we will keep working with this.”
The bill still faces several more hurdles before it can be signed into law. The bill will need approval from the full Senate and then the House will have to accept the Senate’s changes — or both chambers will need to reconcile their differences on the bill’s language in conference committee.
Its chances of passage look sunny in the upper chamber, however, though Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick previously said he was “wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.” During Friday’s hearing, Campbell said Patrick “helped craft” the reworked version of the legislation. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen also told Spectrum News this week he thinks the Senate will take concepts from both medical cannabis bills passed by the House earlier — one from Klick and the other from Democratic state Rep. Eddie Lucio III of Brownsville — and “put them into one.”
Expanding the Compassionate Use Act has drawn the support of some politically powerful players since the last legislative session. In March, a new group lobbying for medical marijuana, Texans for Expanded Access to Medical Marijuana, emerged and has players with some serious clout in the Capitol — including Allen Blakemore, a top political consultant for Patrick.
The Republican Party of Texas also approved a plank last year asking the Legislature to “improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Presidential Candidate Jokes About Why Denver Decriminalized Psychedelic Mushrooms
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) joked on Thursday that Denver voters approved a measure to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms because they thought the state of Colorado was running low on marijuana.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate made the remark during an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers. The host asked Bennet if it was “true that magic mushrooms are going to be legal in Colorado.”
(The measure actually simply decriminalizes psilocybin mushrooms for adults, and only in the city of Denver.)
Bennet slapped his knee and quipped, “I think that our voters just voted to get Denver to do that, and I think they might’ve thought that we were out of marijuana all of a sudden.”
“And by the way, we’re not out of marijuana in Colorado,” he said.
“That’s what it says on the state flag now, right?” Meyers said.
“Yeah, exactly,” Bennet replied.
The senator, who previously served as the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, has cosponsored several wide-ranging cannabis bills in Congress, including legislation to federally deschedule marijuana and penalize states that enforce cannabis laws in a discriminatory way.
But before his state voted to legalize marijuana in 2012, Bennet stood opposed.
It’s not clear how he voted on Denver’s historic psilocybin initiative.
At least Bennet is aware of the measure and was willing to joke about it, though. Several of his colleagues who have worked on cannabis issues declined to weigh in on decriminalizing psychedelics when asked by Marijuana Moment recently.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/Late Night with Seth Meyers.