Recent survey data from SoonerPoll.com shows 71 percent of likely Oklahoma voters support amending the law to allow for physician-authorized patients to consume cannabis for therapeutic reasons. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar measures since 1996.
Other survey results show 57 percent prefer treating minor marijuana violations as noncriminal, fine-only offenses.
Sixteen other states have decriminalized possession on first offenses, while Colorado and Washington have eliminated all criminal and civil penalties involving the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
According to Oklahoma law, the sale of any amount of marijuana is punishable by two years to life in prison. Subsequent possession offenses can result in prison time ranging from two to 10 years.
The punitive state laws don’t stop there. A new zero-tolerance statute also may place many more Oklahomans in county jails and state prisons.
The law, which took effect Oct. 1, creates a situation in which people who are not impaired (or high) but have smoked marijuana days or weeks earlier could be charged with driving under the influence. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, remains in a person’s body for several weeks, said Norma Sapp (pictured above), state director of the Oklahoma chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
However, the law specifically states “any amount” of a Schedule I drug, including pot, that is discovered through blood, saliva or urine tests within two hours after an arrest could result in prosecution.
“You better not be driving through Oklahoma with a Colorado tag and a bad attitude,” OKC drug lawyer Chad Moody said.
Moody, a former Baptist pastor, specializes in defending people accused of drug crimes.
“This law does nothing but punish marijuana users through the back door,” he said. “The police have the attitude, ‘If we can ascertain through your precious bodily fluids what you’ve been up to, then we’re going to arrest you for something you did weeks ago.’”
Because of Oklahoma’s strict legal stance, more and more state residents are moving to Colorado to receive medical treatment involving marijuana.
That’s what Mallory Jo Johnson has gone through so she could save her daughter’s life. Zoey Johnson, 6, suffers from a rare seizure disorder known as Dravet Syndrome with only 600 reported cases worldwide. The seizures began when she was 3 months old, but it took more than 3 years and dozens of tests before doctors at Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth, Texas, diagnosed the toddler with Dravet’s, the girl’s grandfather, Marty Piel, said in an interview with Oklahoma Gazette.
possible medication has been prescribed by doctors, Piel said,
including two that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration. Until about three weeks ago, nothing worked. Zoey
experienced almost every type of seizure known to modern medicine,
including thousands of head drops, or atonic seizures, in one day.
Then the family decided Mallory and Zoey should move to Colorado. In September, Zoey received her first cannabidiol (CBD) treatment — CBD is a non-intoxicating component of marijuana but still is illegal in Oklahoma. In Zoey’s case, the CBD is mixed with less than a milliliter of THC in an olive oil base. Drops are placed under her tongue.
Typically, Zoey receives three treatments a day. Since the treatments began, she has learned 20 new words, is speaking in four- and five-word sentences and wrote her name for the first time, Piel said. Before the treatments began, doctors compared her developmental to that of a 27-month-old.
“She’s starting to play, she colors and she pretends like other kids,” her mother said. “She’s also going to school for the first time, and she’s happy, sings and has fun.”
Piel and his daughter are advocates for a Compassionate Care Act that would allow patients to use medical marijuana in Oklahoma when prescribed by a physician.
“Kids shouldn’t have to leave their home state to seek treatment, but we don’t have any other option,” the grand- father said. “We’ll put every synthetic drug known to man in these kids, but (there’s) a naturally grown plant and we don’t let them have it.”
But lawmakers like Sen. Brian Crain (R-Tulsa), chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, are having no part of it.
“I’m opposed to marijuana in any form,” the former district attorney said. “I talked to a doctor in Grove who told me there’s nothing in marijuana that can’t be provided for with prescription medications.”
However, Mark Woodward, spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control, said the agency is studying the use of CBD treatment and its potential benefits.
“We want to see how other states are going about it,” he said. “If CBDs could help with seizures, then we’d be open to exploring those possibilities. We want to help kids, but we don’t want it (the use of CBDs) to be exploited.”
Apparently, the OBNDDC spokesman has changed his tune in the last year.
In July 2012, Woodward downplayed the significance of medical marijuana when he told OKC television station News9, “That isn’t medicine.”
He also said, “The bottom line is the whole medical marijuana movement is recreational pot smokers looking for loopholes in the law so they can recreationally smoke it whenever they want.”
People like Zoey and dozens of other Oklahomans faced with chronic back pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis and migraines would disagree since traditional pharmaceutical medicines haven’t worked for them.
At the same time, the relief they find in medical marijuana can be life-saving, Sapp said.
In February, longtime Oklahoma resident Adam Setzer wrote a letter to state lawmakers urging them to approve a pair of medical marijuana measures intro- duced by state Sen. Connie Johnson. Setzer has suffered after a 2005 motor vehicle accident that left him with 13 bulging spinal discs, seizures and an extraordinary amount of pain.
Five years and 31 different medications later, Setzer finally turned to medical marijuana.
“The medical marijuana is the greatest thing I ever tried,” Setzer wrote. “I was the biggest cynic out there, even more than most of you … until I finally tried it.”
Senate Bill 710 would have allowed patients with debilitating medical conditions to privately possess up to eight ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants in their home.
However, the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-2 to derail the proposal.
Another measure, Senate Bill 902, would have allowed the Oklahoma Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision to adopt rules permitting doctors to prescribe medical marijuana, but the bill stalled in the Health and Human Services committee.
Still, Johnson isn’t deterred by the lack of legislative success and insists she’ll keep fighting for common-sense marijuana law reform.
Johnson believes the medical marijuana issue boils down to two issues: accountability and compassion.
“They (legislative leaders) don’t have to listen to us, but they do have to talk to their constituents,” she said.
“Cannabis, used in its right form, can help people.”
Sapp, 61, contends education of state lawmakers and law enforcement officials is the only answer to the decades-old marijuana debate. “Eighty-seven years of reefer madness needs to be dispelled,” she said, referencing the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. “I don’t understand why they’re afraid of the plant, period.”
Sapp believes decriminalizing marijuana and taxing it as other states have done would reduce prison and jail populations, increase state and local revenues and allow police officers to pursue suspects of more serious violent crimes.
“Oklahoma is one of the most dangerous places to live in the nation,” she said, “but we’re focusing on people who smoke pot.”
The FBI reports that aggravated assaults statewide jumped 3.8 percent in 2012 compared to 1.1 percent nationwide. Agency stats also show a sharp increase in forcible rape last year with 1,588 cases, up 12.6 percent from 2011 and the most since 1994.
Even many lawmen are opposed to the 42-year-old “War on Drugs” launched by former President Richard Nixon in 1971. The group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) advocates education and diminishing law enforcement’s role in the enforcement of drug laws.
“By continuing to fight the socalled ‘War on Drugs’, the U.S. government has worsened these problems of society instead of alleviating them,” LEAP’s website states.
“A system of regulation and control of these substances (by the government, replacing the current system of control by the black market) would be a less harmful, less costly, more ethical and more efficient public policy.”