State Sen. Constance Johnson has filed a bill to legalize marijuana in Oklahoma and place its regulation under the control of the state Health Department.
“I think with our current system of laws and punishments for simple possession, we are burying ourselves into a pit where the costs are unsustainable,” said Johnson, who has made several unsuccessful past attempts to liberalize Oklahoma's marijuana laws.
Johnson said she believes unnecessarily harsh laws have ruined young people's lives, and that decriminalizing marijuana would reduce gang activity and violence.
Opposition to Johnson's bill has come quickly from some Oklahoma law enforcement officials.
“I think it will have an early death,” Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said of Senate Bill 2116.
The bill by Johnson, D-Forest Park, would make it legal for individuals 21 and older to purchase, possess and consume up to 1 ounce of marijuana and establish basic rules for its cultivation and sale.
“Why not?” asks Norma Sapp, state director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “That's the way we should go because then it's in a regulated market. We don't have any more of this black market funding to the gangs and the people who are making money off it on the street.”
Sapp said she has been energized by calls of support from throughout Oklahoma since legalized sales of marijuana began in Colorado, causing long lines of buyers to form at retail establishments in that state and producing more than $1 million in sales the first day.
If Oklahomans aren't ready to embrace legalization of recreational marijuana, Sapp said she hopes the Legislature will at least approve medicinal sales.
Sapp said a low-grade form of marijuana has shown tremendous promise in treating Dravet Syndrome, a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy that afflicts children. Testimony about the medicinal value of marijuana will be presented to a state Senate committee in room 419c of the state Capitol at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 12, she said. Supporters of medicinal marijuana have labeled the day Medical Marijuana Lobby Day and are encouraging supporters to show up.
Whetsel and Darrell Weaver, executive director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, said they strongly oppose Johnson's marijuana bill.