Budding prospects 

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.’”

Medical miracles?
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.

Every 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

“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

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.”

Not alone
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.”

Fighting ghosts
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

“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.”

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