Oklahoma voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in a statewide election yesterday. Votes in favor of State Question 788 (SQ 788) totaled 56 percent of the ballots cast, while 43 percent opposed the measure. SQ 788 legalizes cannabis for medicinal use and establishes a regulatory framework for a legal supply chain.
Unlike medicinal cannabis legislation in many states, SQ 788 does not include a list of specific qualifying conditions. Instead, the initiative allows doctors to decide if their patients might benefit from cannabis.
Chip Paul is the chairman of Oklahomans for Health, a cannabis advocacy group responsible for SQ 788. He told High Times that the measure is a victory for patients.
“With the passage of SQ788, Oklahomans have passed perhaps the most unique medical marijuana law in the nation. With no qualifying conditions, the law will put accountability squarely in the hands of physicians and under the same state regulatory controls as prescription medications. We are pleased that Oklahomans have seen our vision and have adopted the state question into law.”
Is SQ 788 Recreational Pot in Disguise?
But that provision mobilized the opposition, who believe that the initiative is really a guise for recreational marijuana. The group SQ 788 Is Not Medical spent $500,000 on a media campaign against the measure. Dr. Kevin Taubman is the chairman of SQ 788 Is Not Medical and the former president of the Oklahoma Medical Association.
“This is a bad public health policy that does not resemble a legitimate medical treatment program,” Taubman said.
The opposition drive seems to have struck a chord with some voters. Connie Givens voted against the initiative. She told reporters that the initiative is too broad and would lead to recreational cannabis use.
“I think it’s not written right. I think it’s just so people can get marijuana,” Givens said.
Pollster Bill Shapard has surveyed Oklahomans about medical marijuana for five years. He said that attitudes are changing in the traditionally conservative state, especially among young people. Before the election, he predicted that the opposition would have a difficult job defeating SQ 788.
“I’ve found almost half of all Republicans support it, so that’s going to take an awful lot of money and an awful lot of organized opposition for this to lose on election day,” Shapard said.
Can Pot Taxes Save a Cash-strapped State?
But some who voted for the measure saw a new revenue stream for a state mired in economic difficulty. Earlier this year, Oklahoma teachers walked off the job to protest low pay and poor conditions in public schools. After a nine-day strike lawmakers relented and passed teacher raises of about $6,000 each, depending on experience. But the walkout failed to gain additional funding for schools. Robert Pemberton from Oklahoma City said that he voted for SQ 788 because medical marijuana legalization has helped other states with financial woes.
“They’ve got excess money, and we need that, especially for our teachers,” he said. “I think we need the revenue from it. I think we need the money. Our state’s in trouble financially and I think it would really help.”
The Oklahoma State Board of Health is already busy working on regulations for the implementation of SQ 788. Application information for patients will be available by July 26, and the state will begin accepting applications by August 25.
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