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How The Oklahoma Cannabis Initiative Is Changing The State Republican Race

By Roger  Malespin photo/istock/jaflippo

In a follow up to last week’s story on the landmark Oklahoma State Question 788, which will make the medical use of marijuana legal in the state, the issue has quickly turned into one that is shaping the upcoming Republican primary runoff election. For those who aren’t aware, voters in the overwhelmingly conservative state opted to legalize medical marijuana in a move that shocked everyone from lawmakers to cannabis supporters. 

Many republican lawmakers have said they will adhere to the voters’ wishes but not all of them are on board. The initiative will not be brought to ballot yet in light of the division - out of the ten republicans facing a second round of primaries on August 28th, eight of them represent districts who voted by a large majority in favor of legalization. 

Some of the lawmakers in favor of listening to the voters include Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, who was elected in 2016. During his early days in office, voters approved a criminal justice reform bill (State Questions 780 and 781) aimed at reducing the state prison population, which is operating at well above 100 percent capacity. Lawson wisely listened to the voters, but he saw first hand the backlash against those republicans who wanted to amend the bills to appear tough on crime. 

"There's really not an appetite to undo the will of the people. I put myself in that category," Lawson said. "Voters definitely would feel like us going back in and making changes would be a slap in the face."

For his part, Lawson does not believe that the upcoming runoff election is the reason for the delay in bringing the initiative to ballot. Bud Scott, director of the trade group representing the cannabis industry, agrees. 

"The call to not do a special session is to try to keep everyone occupied. 'Let's keep this shiny object of these regulatory rules at the State Department of Health to occupy people so they don't pay attention to the longer game,'" said Scott. He feels that opposition lawmakers are stonewalling in order to get the vote pushed back to February of next year, when they hope enough time will pass for voters to not notice sweeping changes to the language of the bill.

It should be noted that every legalization proposal goes through the same process in different states and always has modified language to it - the concern is just how much.

The situation in Oklahoma is one the lawmakers are still obviously still reeling from. No one saw this coming except for maybe the cautiously optimistic. We tend to think of the cannabis issue in terms of partisanship, and there is some truth in that, but as we have reported before, cannabis is quickly becoming one of the issues that is supported on both sides of the aisle. A state does not get more red than Oklahoma, and it not at all unreasonable to think the initiative is not being pushed back because of political scrambling of the opposition, who now suddenly find themselves at odds with the majority of their voters on an issue they have long been secure with. 

Once again, we see that the more the cannabis community speaks out and communicates effectively with the science and real life testimony of its benefits, the more this country’s citizens will come to see how much legalization will help their community, no matter where they are or what their political affiliation. Stay active and spread knowledge - it works.