[Editor’s Note: WOW!! The activists who got medical cannabis in Oklahoma on the ballot might be the smartest ones in the U.S. This is a quick read about how to do ballot initiatives right.]
We have covered the state of Oklahoma quite a bit here at The Marijuana Times. From its rocky start last summer up to the impressively quick rollout, we’ve learned a lot from the state’s medical marijuana program.
In fact, just the other day, I wrote the following paragraph:
It’s not like a simpler approach isn’t possible with cannabis law reform. Look at Oklahoma. I’ve covered the state quite a bit on our video show Cannabis News and things are moving quite fast there. After what most would deem a rocky start, the medical marijuana program in Oklahoma has gone from non-existent to in place and showing explosive growth in the space of 6 months. And what will happen in Oklahoma? A lot of people will grow, sell and consume cannabis legally. Tens of thousands of patients will find relief.
Re-reading that paragraph made me wonder two things: why did I use “quite” twice in one sentence, and how is it that Oklahoma has been able to do what few other states have? To be sure, there are several superficial reasons, but I wanted to know more than that. What is so different about Oklahoma that they can bring about a functioning medical cannabis industry in a few months when it takes other states up to a year to even write the form that licensees will need to fill out? When you want answers, there are few better places to go than to the source; in this case, Chip and Cynthia Paul of Oklahomans for Health.
“Oklahomans For Health was founded in 2014 by my wife Cynthia and I, and another gent,” Chip told us about the beginning of this journey. “We petitioned the state in 2014 and were successful in building momentum and also changing the conversation in Oklahoma (we have a 90 day window). We petitioned again in 2016 and reached our signature threshold. We were denied the 2016 ballot due to a challenge by then Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. We won that case in Oklahoma State Supreme Court and were awarded the ballot on June 26th, 2018.”
According to Chip, the measure passed against heavy odds. “We were opposed by every sitting State Agency head, the Oklahoma State Medical Association, every major hospital system, the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, most city Chambers, and of course most LE agencies,” he said, adding that the opposition outspent the Pro-MMJ forces about 12-to-1.
And the short answer as to why the state has been so quick to get the program going? They were forced to. “Since it is an activist law, we wrote it with triggers and dates,” Chip told us. “The state had to have the entire program rolled out within 60 days. We certainly were indicating that we would take legal action if they did not meet the dates. There was a lot of griping about the dates, but the Oklahoma State Department of Health hit the marks and rolled the program out on time.”
I also asked about what still needs to be done when it comes to the medical cannabis program, and Chip pointed out that some regulations were still needed since the state’s Department of Health became sort of gun shy after their initial heavy-handed attempts to restrict the program were shot down. Among Chip’s list of things still needed:
-a testing license and we need lab testing defined and required in the regs
-some better security regulations around outdoor grows
-state defined zoning which would keep cities from over reaching on permitting/zoning requirements
The “program is getting very good feedback both nationally and in the local press,” Chip told us, and so far “the cannabis industry, for the most part, has been very responsible about how they have conducted themselves even under loose regulations.”
All in all, Oklahoma shows what is possible. To get an un-restrictive medical marijuana measure on the ballot in a “red state” and have it pass with 57% of the vote while getting massively outspent by the opposition is incredible enough, but it’s just the first chapter of the book activists and lawmakers in the state are writing on just how to get a full industry up and running in a matter of months.
The lesson activists should take away from this is to keep a tight rein on ballot measure language. Set hard deadlines and force those who will implement the measure to abide by them. Stay vigilant and as unyielding as possible. After all, the ailments that those who use medical cannabis suffer from are not going to back down – and the people fighting for better access have no reason to either.