Don’t Count on Voting for Medical Marijuana in November

Don’t Count on Voting for Medical Marijuana in November

Clinton Wales stands with his sign in front of the state capital at the Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 Pack the Capitol for Legal Medical Cannabis rally. Protestors gathered at the capital to protest the revision of the initial proposal by state officials. Photo by Queila Omena, The Vista. 

Despite of 67,761 signatures in favor of putting medical marijuana on the ballot this November, University of Central Oklahoma students should not expect to be able to vote on this debated issue.

Oklahomans for Health collected the signatures to State Question 788, where medical marijuana would be implemented and would allow doctors to prescribe cannabis products to patients in need.

The original ballot question was modified and rewritten by Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Supporters of medical marijuana believe the change to the ballot question was made to evoke a “no-vote” from voters. Supporters say the new wording of the state question misleads voters to believe the petition would also allow the recreational use of cannabis, instead of strictly medical use.

Joe Dorman, board member of Oklahomans for Health, said that the nonprofit believes the new language of the petition is more vague than the original, and there are hopes the Oklahoma Supreme Court will accept the original ballot title.

According to Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, State Question 788 on Ballotpedia.com:

The original first sentences of the proposal read:

“This measure amends the Oklahoma State Statutes. A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes.”

The revised version reads:

“This measure legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma.”

“[The altered version] is very misleading. It does not give a clear picture of what the proposed language would do. This is specifically dealing with medical marijuana. The first part of the description leads people to believe that this is a question for full legalization of marijuana, and that’s not true,” Dorman said.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Politics, the Secretary of the State, Chris Benge, deemed the ballot title as insufficient and asked Pruitt to rewrite it.

Once the petition is completed, the attorney general has the ability under the law to rewrite or re-frame the ballot title if the he or she does not see it as a proper description.

Following a revision, the petition is sent to the Supreme Court, and in a period of 10 days the organization that proposed the state question can ask the Supreme Court to accept the original version, the modified one, or to write their own version, Dorman said.

Pruitt said the wording of the state ballot was changed because no medical conditions were listed. He wanted to inform voters by providing an accurate description of the measure’s effects, Pruitt said.

“The proposition itself states there are no qualifying medical conditions, and while a physician has to sign-off on an application for a license, nothing in the law provides a physician will monitor usage,” Pruitt said.

According to Dorman, medical conditions were not included in the state question because he believes that doctors have the expertise to discern whether or not a patient needs to use cannabis products. Dorman also said he did not want to leave some medical conditions out.

“The reason we wrote that, in the way we did, is many other states are seeing problems with having to go back and amend the law, just because medical conditions have been left out. We framed [the description] this way, to give doctors full discretion and authority to prescribe for conditions they think it will help,” Dorman said.

According to the Encyclopedia of American Politics, the original ballot title states that a “Yes-vote” would legalize the licensed use, as well as the sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medical purposes. The rewritten version of the ballot removes the “medical purposes,” out of the phrase.

Also, the previous state question affirms that the use of medical marijuana must be approved by an Oklahoma Board Certified Physician. In the rewritten version for a physician to give a patient access to medical marijuana, the phrase “must be approved,” was modified to “must recommend the license.”

When asked if medical marijuana should be implemented in the state of Oklahoma, UCO’s Criminal Justice student, Marcus Payton said, “I think [marijuana] can be used medically. There are a lot of benefits for it, as long as it’s strictly used in certain areas, like hospitals designated for those users. But nowhere outside of that.”

Even though the signatures were collected within 90 days, some state officials believe that Oklahomans for Health did not allocate enough signatures within the limited time, and advised them to get signatures earlier.

“Those state officials are incorrect. We collected, and there was enough time to go through the entire process and everything would go smoothly. But unfortunately it just wasn’t the case,” Dorman said.

Due to several criticisms of the rewritten ballot question, many supporters attended the rally, Pack the Capitol for Legal Medical Cannabis, earlier this week. The event organized by Oklahomans for Change hoped to help and inspire others on being involved in the political process and show their displeasure on several fronts, including the rewording of the ballot.

More than 100 people were present at the rally, chanting “let us vote” at the State Capitol on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016 at 4:30 p.m.

Attendees of the event and Oklahomans for Change members wanted officials, including Gov. Mary Fallin and Pruitt to know there is a large support to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Seniors with disabilities made up the majority of the crowd at the rally. Several speakers at the rally talked about their severe medical conditions including lupus, cancer, and epilepsy while other attendees spoke about their frustrations after having the petition modified.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be on the ballot this November, because of trickery at the capitol. And there’s a problem with the attorney general changing the title of the question to make it appear that it’s recreational use and not medicinal. That’s a barrier,” Walter Jacquis said, an attendee at the event.

According to a study released in the Journal Health Affairs, in states where medical marijuana is legal, the number of prescriptions given for painkillers and other classes of drugs fell drastically comparing to states that did not have a medical-marijuana law. In the study, the average doctor in a medical marijuana state prescribed 265 fewer doses of antidepressants each year, 486 fewer doses of seizure medication, 541 fewer anti-nausea medications, and 562 fewer doses of anti-anxiety medication.

Although the question will most likely not make it on the ballot this November, Oklahomans for Health believe in the chances for the petition to be on the ballot in the June primary election in 2018, or during the general election that same year.

 

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