Senate Bill 573, known as the Compassionate Use Act, would allow a physician to prescribe marijuana to patients, and would allow patients or their primary caregiver to grow marijuana for medicinal use. The bill’s author, Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, said other specifics would have been added later.
Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, did not schedule any legislation to be heard before the committee prior to the Feb. 28 deadline.
Johnson said she is considering holding her own Senate hearings on medical marijuana.
“That’s probably what I’m going to look at doing, just to give this issue the public policy muster,” she said.
However, expectations for medical marijuana legalization are not high in the state right now, said Jeff Pickens, president of the Drug Policy Reform Network of Oklahoma.
“Regardless, the way I look at it is what Sen. Johnson has done is she has made a contribution to this cause in Oklahoma,” Pickens said. “Just simply lending her credibility and reputation, and to author this is one of the most passionate and brave contributions any elected official has made to medical marijuana reform in Oklahoma.”
A CASE FOR THE ‘MUNCHIES’
Thus far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana.
Advocates say smoking it can alleviate pain from several ailments, including multiple sclerosis and symptoms of epilepsy.
“Medical marijuana is real,” Pickens said. “It relieves suffering, and changing the law is the right thing to do.”
The “munchies” are one of the biggest advantages of smoking marijuana for ailments, he said. Since cannabis stimulates appetite, it helps patients overcome the nausea commonly caused by chemotherapy treatments.
Pickens said he visited one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in North America, located in Canada, where 70 percent of the patients used marijuana to alleviate sickness caused by chemotherapy.
Although some drugs, such as Marinol, are legal with a prescription, they are in pill form and the patient cannot control the dosage, meaning the effects often can come on too strong, he said.
Smoking marijuana, Pickens said, bypasses the digestive system and allows the patient to ingest a broader range of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical producing the “high” of marijuana, thus increasing the chance it will have a positive effect. Also, inexperienced marijuana users can control their dosage.
A standing argument against medical marijuana is that the exact effects in patients has not been scientifically examined, but Pickens said that is no longer the case, as thousands nationwide are now being prescribed the drug.
“This can all be reviewed in actual peer-reviewed studies,” he said. “The research has been done.”
Pickens said legalizing medical marijuana would do three things: People would not be test subjects for a range of narcotics to determine which one best alleviates their symptoms; people who use marijuana for medical purposes will no longer have to worry about their money financing drug cartels; and people will not be considered criminals for using marijuana to alleviate medical problems.
“This issue is very simple,” he said.
“There’s no defending the use of criminal penalties on someone who their doctor says will be more happy, will be more comfortable, will be more well, if allowed to use medical marijuana. To prevent that is indefensible.”
However, not all agree legalization would help the state.
Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward said many states that have legalized medical marijuana are beginning to regret it.
“There have been a number of abuses to this law,” Woodward said. “We’re very concerned about Oklahoma passing this law and experiencing the same problems as other states that passed this law.”
He said the Montana Legislature is considering a repeal because “the scourge of abuse” and many people who are not ill obtaining doctor’s notes allowing them to get marijuana.
“People who are pot smokers are using this as a loophole to legalize what they want to do,” Woodward said. “Legalization groups and advocates openly brag that medical marijuana is the loophole to smoke when you want.”
In addition, California has had a problem with drug cartels coming in and paying medical marijuana cardholders so that they can grow pot, Woodward said.
While some benefit medically from the effects of THC, in the form of marijuana, Marinol and similar prescription drugs, Woodward said, most doctors choose to prescribe alternatives.
“This is not medicine; this is a harmful chemical being taken into the body,” Woodward said.
For pain relief, he said drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are more effective, and that a psychological addiction to marijuana may lead the user to believe it works better than other drugs. Many people who take prescription pain relievers do not experience addiction.
Johnson said she introduced the Compassionate Use Act because the issue is legitimate and deserves a fair hearing.
“It deserves to be subjected to the process so we can make a decision one way or other,” she said.
Johnson pointed to successes in Colorado and New Mexico. As for a rise in crime, she said she doubted the bill, if passed, would cause such an outcome.
“That’s what you address in legislation. I think with us being the 16th state to consider it, we certainly have adequate examples of what works and what doesn’t work,” Johnson said. “I just believe if we have the discussion, we have the talent to create the law that will be best law for us.”
She also said decriminalization should be examined.
“People say it’s a gateway drug. I think alcohol is a gateway drug; I think cigarettes are a gateway drug,” Johnson said, citing the case of a woman who recently received a 10-year prison sentence for being caught with a little more than $30 of marijuana. “To legalize marijuana would take a whole other piece of legislation. Why do we overcriminalize marijuana? Given the impact on our state corrections budget, it’s certainly open for discussion.”
Pickens said medical marijuana will be a reality in Oklahoma one day.
you want it to happen, you should say it is going to happen,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter to me what order (in terms of states) we pass it in;
the fact is, it is going to happen.”
Click here to see a map of American marijuana legalization. Information provided by NORML.