SQ 788
From left, Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) and Se. Ervin Yen (R-OKC). (NonDoc)

As voters prepare to decide June 26 whether Oklahoma should allow the growth, distribution and use of medical marijuana, lawmakers have already begun to address the fine details regarding State Question 788.

As currently written, voter approval of SQ 788’s statutorial changes would allow doctors to prescribe patients 18 years or older a medical marijuana license that would legally permit them to purchase up to three ounces of cannabis. Gov. Mary Fallin announced Jan. 4 that the issue had garnered the 66,000 required signatures in 2016, enabling her to place it on the June 26 primary election ballot instead of the November general election ballot.

Many believe that if SQ 788 were voted on today, it would pass. Sooner Poll reported 62 percent of Oklahomans are now in favor of legalizing medical cannabis.

Sen. Yen: ‘It’s too open-ended’

On Feb. 5, Sen. Ervin Yen (R-OKC) introduced SB 1120, which, if passed, would limit the definition of medical marijuana and its prescriptions.

“788 says ‘medical marijuana,’ but in my reading, it’s not,” Yen said. “It’s too open-ended.”

Among several other codifications, Yen’s bill would regulate medical marijuana use to patients who have “serious conditions,” such as:

  • spastic paralysis from multiple sclerosis or paraplegia,
  • neuropathic pain,
  • intractable nausea and vomiting,
  • or chronic-wasting disease from AIDS or cancer.

Yen’s bill would effectively put the power of medical marijuana prescription in the hands of medical professionals.

Rep. Jordan: ‘This isn’t just about doctors’

Meanwhile, Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) believes the wording of the state question should focus on the medical cannabis issue in a broader scope.

“This isn’t just about doctors,” Jordan said. “This state question deals with growers, it deals with dispensaries, it deals with people who have medical issues, and so we can actually ensure the public gets a safe product, there has to be some regulation put in place.”

SQ 788 calls for the creation of a new office within the Oklahoma State Department of Health to review applications and issue medical marijuana licenses. The currently embattled OSDH, however, recently failed to pay $26,343 among other payments and invoices accumulated from last year. This mismanagement led to the recent resignation of Mike Romero, the health department’s former chief financial officer, who stated the agency had a total financial shortfall of $30 million at the end of 2017.

Jordan believes a new agency must be created to handle administrative tasks if the state question passes. His HB 3468, also introduced Feb. 5 as a shell bill, would create the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Act of 2018 and, ostensibly, provide for the creation of a new, dedicated agency.

“It’s better to put it under its own agency like a lot of other states have done,” he said.

Should SQ 788 pass, Jordan is pushing for OSDH to help create a cannabis commission that would oversee the regulation of medical marijuana. A year after the potential passage of SQ 788, the cannabis commission would stand on its own, according to Jordan. Even though there is no funding attached to the initiative, an independent agency funded by cannabis taxes, fees and licensing could operate more efficiently, as it wouldn’t be limited by federal funding.

Analysis: SQ 788 ‘Permissive’ rather than ‘restrictive’

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 29 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, now allow for the usage and possession of medical marijuana.

In an analysis of similar laws elsewhere in the country, Ryan Gentzler of the OK Policy Institute reported that Oklahoma’s medical marijuana laws would be comparative to most other states (excluding California) regarding patient access to medical cannabis. Overall, SQ 788 remains a “permissive” initiative rather than a “radical” one, according to Gentzler.