New legislation has been proposed in the Oklahoma Senate that would amend state laws on medical marijuana.
Democratic state Sen. Constance Johnson proposed the two pieces of legislation in January and has yet to be granted a hearing for them.
SB 902, if passed, would direct the State Board of Medical Licensure and Supervision to develop rules, fees and licenses for the legal use of medical cannabis. Current state law prohibits individuals from possessing any amount of marijuana. It would become effective Nov. 1.
SB 914, if passed, would amend a portion of Oklahoma Statute 63, or the Oklahoma Health Code. Section 2‑402 of the act would be amended, which relates to providing penalties for unlawful possession or purchase of marijuana and subsequent violations.
The current law states that possession of marijuana in an amount less than or equal to 1.5 ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year and by a fine not exceeding $1,000. If amended, the misdemeanor would be punishable by confinement for not more than 10 days and by a fine not exceeding $200. It would also become effective Nov. 1.
Sen. Johnson, who has introduced medical marijuana legislation for a better part of the past six or seven years, says her proposed legislation will most likely not be heard because of a lack of sufficient financial backing.
“I’ve been told that it’s never going to be heard in the legislature, but I still think we have to expose the fact that only the interests that have big money are what get a hearing,” Johnson said. “I just believe that these issues have just as much right to be vetted by the legislature as issues like worker’s comp reform and income tax reform, especially to the extent that these laws impact peoples’ liberty.”
The two pieces of proposed legislation, filed on Jan. 17, have received strong scrutiny and extremely limited support from Johnson’s colleagues in the Senate.
“While I have almost no support in the legislature, I do have it from the citizens of Oklahoma who are dealing with chronic diseases and conditions that could be remediated by medical marijuana,” Johnson said. “Senator Brian Crain has single-handedly blocked my legislation from coming before the people.”
Republican state Sen. Brian Crain, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Select Agencies, says he hasn’t seen either piece of legislation yet.
“Senator Johnson asked for an interim study on the legalization of marijuana, and I did not allow that hearing to be held,” Crain said. “I’ve had several, several senators come up to me and tell me that they are opposed to any type of legalization of medical marijuana.”
Crain, who was an assistant district attorney in Tulsa County during the mid-‘90s, said he has seen a lot of evidence that says that this is not what’s good for Oklahoma.
“While I was an assistant D.A., it seemed that in every crime that was committed there was marijuana that was involved,” Crain said. “I’ve got some real concerns that when you’ve got marijuana you’ve also got other crimes that are involved with that.”
Crain said the number of teenagers trying marijuana also bothers him.
“In those states where there is medical marijuana that is allowed, there is a significant increase in the number of teenagers that are trying marijuana because it is available in their house,” Crain said. “With the information that has been provided to me from Senator Johnson, I’m just not comfortable that this is in the best interest of improving the health of the state of Oklahoma.”
Johnson said because of the obvious opposition to her bills in the legislature, she is going to consider taking the legislation to a vote of the people via an initiative petition process in the future.
“I think initiative petition is all we have left because it’s not like it can be a state question, because that has to go through the legislature,” Johnson said. “If they won’t even hold a hearing on the issue to let folks come educate them, they’re certainly not going to pass a bill that would send it to a vote of the people.”
Although the outlook for her legislation is bleak, Johnson said she will not stop fighting for the issue.
“All day long I sit and read emails from people who are suffering, who can not get their legislators to listen to them,” Johnson said. “The fact that all I hear is that this legislation doesn’t stand a chance in hell of passing is not the reason to stop pushing the issue.”