State lawmakers and cannabis activists are pushing back against restrictions placed on Oklahoma’s fledgling medical marijuana program. Voters legalized the use of medicinal cannabis with the passage of State Question 788 (SQ 788) by a margin of 57-43 percent on June 26.
On Sunday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health released emergency rules to govern the program. On Tuesday, the State Board of Health approved those rules, but not before adding two notable restrictions.
No Smokable Cannabis
Under the regulations, dispensaries will not be allowed to sell smokable forms of cannabis. Another provision would require dispensaries to have a pharmacist on site. Those restrictions are in line with recommendations made by the Oklahoma State Medical Association. The president of that group, Jean Hausheer, has said she believes that voters did not understand SQ 788.
Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates told local media that allowing the sale of smokable cannabis would be contrary to the board’s mission.
“To allow smokable forms would be a step back as protectors of public health in Oklahoma and certainly reasonable people can differ on that,” he said.
Bates added that registered medical marijuana patients will be able to smoke cannabis if they grow it themselves.
Swift Opposition to New Rules
But lawmakers and cannabis activists who support SQ 788 are already fighting back against the board’s restrictions.
Democratic Rep. Jason Lowe said in a release on Tuesday the board’s decision is contrary to the will of the people.
“The Oklahoma State Department of Health has enacted law that undermines one of the most participated in elections in state history and silences the voice of Oklahomans across this state. Today’s decision is an affront to democracy and an insult to the law-abiding citizens that showed up to vote for this initiative,” Lowe said. “In order to ensure that the will of the people is protected from bureaucracy and to save the state from yet another embarrassing lawsuit, I am calling on the governor to immediately call for a special session so that the elected leaders of this state can implement the law as instructed by the citizens of Oklahoma.”
Bud Scott, the director of the advocacy group New Health Solutions Oklahoma, said that the restrictions are too strict for some patients.
“No smokable product, which basically eliminates flowering bud,” he said. “That’s a major, major problem because often times different delivery systems, the way you ingest medical cannabis, has a different impact for your specific medical condition.”
Dr. Noel Williams, an Oklahoma City physician who has studied the endocannabinoid system, agreed.
“Unfortunately, whether it’s marijuana, or a medication, different routes of administration cause different effects, so we need to have all of them,” Williams said.
Is Recreational Pot Next for Oklahoma?
Robert Cox is an activist who campaigned for SQ 788 and helped organize a rally in the city of Norman that featured Dr. Sanjay Gupta as a speaker. He told High Times that claims voters were unaware patients would smoke medical marijuana are ridiculous.
“The opposition spent over a half-million dollars on TV ads, radio ads, newspapers, and every single ad said the same thing. This is the most liberal marijuana law in the country,” Cox said. “It’s basically recreational. Don’t vote for it,” he said. “Well, what happened? We voted for it. It was absolutely, positively clear.”
Cox added that the decision of the members of the health board, who he characterized as “clueless,” has galvanized the efforts of activists who are now circulating petitions for a recreational cannabis initiative.
“Anytime bureaucrats do something as wrong-headed as what they did yesterday, it actually has a positive effect because I’ve never seen so much motivation as right now to get all the signatures needed for adult-use. It’s fired people up big time,” Cox said.