A measure to legalize the sale, growth and use of marijuana for medical purposes will come before Oklahoma voters on Tuesday, June 26.
The measure, State Question 788 — if approved by voters — will legalize the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana for medical purposes.
Licenses approved by a physician and issued by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, would allow the the individual the right to have possession of a set amount of the drug.
A special provision is in place for persons under the age of 18 to qualify for a license with the approval of two physicians and a parent or guardian.
Chip Paul, chairman of the Oklahomans for Health, is just one of many people across the state promoting the passage of the state question.
Paul, who will be in Grove on Saturday, June 23 for a forum to discuss the issue, said the state question boils down to how a person uses the drug medicinally.
He said studies of the human Endocannabinoid System by the National Institutes of Health show how the properties of marijuana can benefit a person, based on its impact to the body.
But former Oklahoma State Representative Dr. Doug Cox (R-Grove) disagrees.
Cox believes the bill promotes a recreational marijuana usage, cloaked in the guise of a medical marijuana bill in order to gain public support.
"They are simply using the word medical, for lack of a better word, to get the sympathy vote," Cox said. "I believe they are using the term medical marijuana to garner votes to legalize recreational pot smoking."
Cox said he is for medical marijuana within limits. He helped author and/or pass the laws which allow for the use of Marinol — a drug for cancer patients, and CBD oil — especially for children experiencing seizures.
"I have nothing against CBD oil, or Marinol" Cox said, adding Marinol has gone through Federal Drug Administration testing. [But] there have been no double blind studies [by the FDA] to prove marijuana's effectiveness."
Cox said without studies, a physician will not have the proper information to determine the correct dosage or even side effects.
Paul said marijuana cannot be studied by researchers within the FDA's guidelines because of marijuana's listing as a schedule one drug.
"Marijuana cannot play in the FDA world, and cannot be filled at a pharmacy," Paul said, because of the federal laws.
He said clinical trials conducted by researches have revolved around hemp and CBD oil, rather than the entire plant.
While Cox said state officials have already legalized medical marijuana to an extent, through the use of the drug Marinol and CBD oil, Paul disagrees.
He contends Marinol is comprised of a synthetic component made to be like marijuana, but does not contain any actual marijuana.
Cox believes the bill, as written, is simply designed to allow people to have open access to marijuana, because it allows people to have the plant in a "raw" form, which then includes a psychotropic effect.
"Specialized brain scans show marijuana effects the brain and how a person thinks," Cox said. "The bill doesn't set up any parameters for its use for [any] condition."
But Paul believes the ballot question — and the accompanying legislation language before Oklahoma voters — is better than those passed in other sates.
He said unlike other states, the legislation does not give a "check box list" of illnesses or diagnoses that a person can take to any doctor to receive a medical marijuana license.
Instead, he believes the legislation requires doctors to be "legally, morally, and ethically" bound to their decision to provide marijuana to a patient — and required to discuss with the patient dosages, intake methods and possible side effects.
He hopes the measure will in turn "drive education" and "deeper the understanding" of marijuana's use as a medicine.
But Cox said, the lack of parameters means a person can go to any doctor ask for a license to try marijuana — leading to an increase in potential for abuse.
"My concern is it is no doubt a gateway drug," Cox said. "People go on to use other illegal drugs."
As a former appropriations chairman, Cox said he has toured many of the state's private and public drug treatment programs and spoke with "hundreds" of people in treatment.
"Surprisingly, every single person, with the exception of one, told me marijuana was their entry level drug [for using] illegal substances," Cox said, adding that most told him they went on to use other drugs such as meth or heroin.
While some say marijuana is not as addictive as people believe, Cox said as a physician, as well as a state legislature, he has seen the same argument used for tobacco use.
"Cigarettes are now the number one cause of preventable illnesses," Cox said. "I've also heard the same thing said about opioids, that the use of them in the short term is not addictive.
"Now we have more people dying from opioid use than car accidents. I'm afraid this will be mistake number three if this bill passes."
As a physician, Cox said he's studied the impacts of marijuana use on the human brain. He said many habitual users develop "a motivational syndrome" where they lose desire to "work and succeed."
He worries how the increased use of marijuana will impact employers throughout the state.
But Paul contends the legislation — and ballot language — simply puts medical marijuana use in the same category as the use of opioids for pain medication, meaning a person could not be penalized for using medical marijuana if prescription pain medication is allowed by an employer.
Cox said the use of marijuana to treat diseases such as glaucoma and headaches has not been proven. He believes many of the stories of the drug's benefits are simply anecdotal in nature.
"It does remind me of the snake oil salesmen from the old television show Gunsmoke," Cox said. "There's no scientific evidence to most of the claims."
He likens it to the claims in the 1980s made by patients using WD-40 on their joints, or taking six gin-soaked raisins per day, to help alleviate a person's arthritis pain.
"I tell people it won't hurt a thing, but [the claims] help people selling it," Cox said.
Paul disagrees with Cox, saying some medical conditions can only be treated by smoking marijuana in order to obtain the THC side of the plant's composition.
Paul believes the time is right for medical marijuana to be approved by Oklahoma voters.
"Ask any medical patient in Oklahoma," Paul said. "Anyone suffering from PTSD, cancer, kids with seizures. CBD oil is only 50 percent of the marijuana equation.
"This is a desperately needed medication."
Cox said he disagrees with the use of the drug, and its subsequent monies generated by the sale, as the "cure" for the state's budget woes.
"We heard the same thing for parimutuel horse racing, for liquor by the drink, Indian gaming and the lottery," Cox said. "I don't think this is going to cure it anymore than they did.
"I do think in 10 years, we're going to be spending more tax money on problems related to marijuana's use, than what it brings in, from taxing [the drug]."
He worries the special session, needed to clarify the language of the bill, will simply cost the state more money — money which is lacking in the current budget.
Cox believes people should vote no on the ballot issue, because the bill's language is "poorly written."
Paul disagrees. He believes the special session will help the legislature develop the regulations, which will simply set the parameters for the usage of medical marijuana.
"Clean up is the wrong wording," Paul said. "The law needs regulation. A physician needs recommendations, or guidelines like the Physician's Desk Reference."
Ultimately, Cox said, as a physician, he believes passing this state question would open "Pandora's box" to the unknown.
"Look at the problems we have with [the abuse of] prescription narcotics," Cox said. "We're going to be facing the same problems with medical marijuana.
"Is it the worse drug, no, but it leads to worse drugs. We have to draw the line in the sand somewhere. I believe we should draw it before medical marijuana, rather than waiting for people to get on meth or heroin.
"As a physician, you have to weigh the good and the bad of any medication. Physicians do it every day, based on the [known] side effects.
"[With medical marijuana] we have to weigh the good and the bad, without the double blind studies. I'm afraid the bad will outweigh the good in the long run."
Did You Know?
Early voting for Tuesday's primary election continues at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, June 21 and 22, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, June 23, at the Delaware County Election Board Office on Fifth Street in Jay.
Day of Election voting will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 26. Lines are possible at peak voting times. Wait times will likely be shortest at mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Anyone in line to vote at 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast a ballot.
For information concerning a poling place, to verify registration information, or to view a sample ballot, persons may use the online voter's tool at www.elections.ok.gov.
Those who vote by mail may also check the status of their ballot using the same tool. Sample ballots are also available at the County Election Board office.
Oklahoma law requires every voter who votes in person at the precinct polling place or during early voting at the Delaware County Election Board to show proof of identity before receiving a ballot.
There are three ways for voters to prove their identity under the law (only one proof of identity is required): show a valid photo ID issued by federal, state, or tribal government; show the free voter identification card issued to every voter by the County Election Board; or sign an affidavit and vote a provisional ballot.
(If the information on the affidavit matches official voter registration records, the ballot will be counted after election day.)
Physically disabled voters who cannot enter the polling place, need help marking their ballots, blind or visually disabled voters and illiterate voters may be assisted by a person the voter chooses.
In all cases, a person providing such assistance may not be the voter’s employer or an agent of the employer or an officer or agent of the voter’s union.
A person providing assistance also must swear or affirm that the voter’s ballots will be marked in accordance with the voter’s wishes.
Alternatively, all blind, visually impaired, and physically disabled voters in Delaware County may use the audio-tactile interface (ATI), a feature offered on all Oklahoma voting devices, to vote privately and independently, either at Delaware County Election Board during early voting or at their assigned polling place on election day.
Voters who have moved since the last election, but who have not transferred their voter registration to their new address, may do so on election day by going to vote at the polling place where their registration has been in the past.
While voting, they may fill out a form instructing the Delaware County Election Board to transfer their registration to the new address before the next election.
Those who became physically incapacitated after 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, may request an emergency absentee ballot.
Those who might qualify for an emergency absentee ballot should contact the Delaware County Election Board office at 918-253-8762 as soon as possible for more information.
Any violation of election law will be reported to the proper law enforcement authorities. Electioneering is not allowed within 300 feet of a ballot box.
It is also unlawful to remove a ballot from the polling location, possess intoxicating liquors within half a mile of a polling place or to disclose how you voted while within the election enclosure.
For additional election-related information, visit: www.elections.ok.gov.
If You Go: Forum set for SQ788
One final forum, designed to educate the public concerning State Question 788 involving the legalization of medical marijuana from 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, June 23, at the Grove Public Library in Grove.
Chip Paul with Oklahomans for Health will present information regarding the legislation and the issue. It will include a time of information, as well as a question and answer session.