Republican U.S. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma took a swipe at his home state’s voter-approved medical marijuana program last week during a speech on the Senate floor opposing abortion rights.
Lankford, who has long opposed both cannabis legalization and abortion access, said that just as he feels Oklahoma’s medical marijuana makes it too easy to obtain cannabis “no matter what” the patient’s medical condition, he believes the Democrat-led Women’s Health Protection Act would make it too easy to get an abortion.
“We’re a state that has medical marijuana laws,” the senator said. “You have to have a medical prescription from a doctor to be able to get it. So you know how you get it? The medical marijuana place actually has a doctor that you can just call that’ll write a script to you that’ll write it for no matter what.”
“You could say, ‘My left toe hurts every other Thursday,’” he continued, “and they would say, ‘Great, that’s a medical condition.’”
Lankford was criticizing a provision in the abortion-rights bill—which Senate Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia blocked in a 49–51 vote on Thursday—that would have allowed health care providers, including those who perform abortions, to determine fetal viability using their “good-faith medical judgment.”
Leaving the decision up to a clinician’s discretion, Lankford argued, could conceivably allow abortion providers to justify abortions at any point in a pregnancy.
“We get the joke. If the person who’s actually selling the product is the one who’s actually prescribing it, that means you could do it at any point,” he said. ”So this bill is not about protecting children prior to viability. This bill is about aborting at every single stage of pregnancy.”
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade—which the court is set to overturn, according to a leaked draft opinion—protects women’s right to choose to have an abortion.
Lankford, who is up for reelection this year, himself acknowledged in the same Senate floor speech that he’s been called a “radical extremist” for his views that abortion equates to the “destruction of children.”
The senator has also been a sharp voice of opposition to cannabis legalization, both within Oklahoma and at the federal level. In 2018, he appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure and said in an interview that “marijuana is not used for anyone on chronic pain other than just getting high and to escape from the pain.”
Lankford has also been one of the few members of the U.S. Senate to consistently and proactively voice opposition to cannabis reform. He’s repeatedly tried to gut a Congressional spending provision, for example, that protects state medical marijuana programs from U.S. Justice Department interference.
He also vocally opposed cannabis banking protections being added to COVID relief legislation in 2020. The protections failed to make it into the final bill.
Lankford’s characterization of Oklahoma’s cannabis program last week was not entirely accurate. As in nearly all other states, doctors give recommendations but cannot legally prescribe medical marijuana. And unlike in Lankford’s assertion on the Senate floor, patients buy cannabis from state-licensed dispensaries, not from the recommending doctors themselves.
Associate Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the draft ruling leaked earlier this month that would overturn Roe v. Wade, also briefly touched on drug policy in the opinion against abortion rights.
“These attempts to justify abortion through appeals to a broader right to autonomy and to define one’s ‘concept of existence’ prove too much,” it says. “Those criteria, at a high level of generality, could license fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”
“None of these rights has any claim to being deeply rooted in history,” Alito argued in the draft.
Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, told Marijuana Moment after the ruling leaked that he has “long thought there could be potent arguments for constitutionally protected rights to use a drug for health need if there are no externalities.”
“Such arguments have never gotten any traction in courts, but I agree with the notion that taking privacy/autonomy rights serious could get you there,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore