Hundreds of people rallied at the state Capitol on Wednesday to ask the Legislature to rethink how Oklahoma regulates marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
Supporters gathered for speeches in front of the Capitol, piled into conference rooms and packed the Senate gallery, voicing concerns over what many called the over-criminalization of the drug and the necessity for its use as a medicine.
Ron Ferrell, 63, of Oklahoma City, was among those who were actively lobbying their lawmakers on the issue. Ferrell said, regardless of Oklahoma's reputation as being behind the times socially, he feels the momentum of the medical marijuana movement will eventually take hold in the state.
“It's a snowball effect that's almost unstoppable at this point,” Ferrell said. “People are fed up with these ridiculous laws, and they want to be able to have access to the health benefits of medical marijuana.”
Many of the supporters were there to back Senate Bill 2116, which would allow people 21 years old and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and allow for lawful cultivation of the plant.
Vallee Amber, 61, of Lexington, is battling breast cancer and went through her fourth round of chemotherapy in August.
Amber said the medicine prescribed to her makes her feel too sick to eat and, as a result, she has lost 60 pounds. She said smoking marijuana was the only thing that got her through her final month of chemotherapy. Amber said it's a shame she has to live in fear of the law simply because of the treatment she prefers, including cannabis oils.
“If I were arrested or put in jail because I have oil in my body or I've smoked, it's causing me harm,” Amber said while fighting back tears. “I'm not causing any harm to anyone else by just taking care of my health in the way I choose to do so.”
Senate Bill 902, which would allow the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision to create rules for licensure of medical marijuana sales, is also alive in the current session.
The issue of medicinal use is a valid one but it has been unfairly seized upon by the legalization effort, said Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control. Woodward said if medicinal purposes are proven to be effective, states can have those discussions. But, he said, full legalization is only going to cause more problems.
“You need to ask yourself, is society going to be a safer place with more people going around high on drugs,” Woodward said. “All legalization does is it says, ‘I can go around and keep doing what I'm doing now and no one can stop me.'”
Both alcohol and prescription drugs are legal and taxed, and they still are at the center of the largest drug problems in our society, Woodward said.
“You don't solve the problem by legalizing drugs; you open a floodgate,” Woodward said. “That didn't solve our problems in 1919 when we lifted prohibition. Alcohol is now the most abused drug in the world. How does that change if we legalize marijuana? ‘Oh, it's legal now, so I'm going to stop smoking,' said no one ever.”
Both Senate Bill 2116 and Senate Bill 902 were authored by Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park, who has been an adamant supporter in the Legislature for marijuana decriminalization for several years. She said not only would legalization take power away from drug dealers and private interests, as well as create revenue for the public, it would also stop the flow of nonviolent offenders into the state's prisons.
“It's choking all of the money out of the economy,” Johnson said. “We're paying more to private prisons. A lot of special interests have their hands in this pot, and I'm thinking that's the basis for a lot of the resistance to change in the policies. Too may people are making money off of this and, in my mind, too many Oklahomans are losing families.”
Johnson said while the support for the issue gives her hope, she also recognizes the state is slow to make social change.
“We're Oklahoma. Enough said.”