OKLAHOMA CITY (June 26, 2018) – Today, voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot measure that will create what some analysts are calling one of the least-restrictive medical cannabis laws in the country. The state is now the 32nd to have a marijuana law on the books despite federal prohibition.
Passage of State Question 788 makes it legal to grow, sell, and use marijuana for medical purposes, and gives doctors significant leeway in determining what conditions qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation. Unlike most other states with medical marijuana programs, the new Oklahoma law outlines no restrictions on qualifying conditions.
It also allows those in possession of a two-year medical marijuana license to have up to eight ounces of marijuana, six mature plants, six seedlings, and edibles or concentrated forms of the drug. The measure leaves the necessity for the license to the discretion of the doctor, “according to the accepted standards a reasonable and prudent physician would follow when recommending or approving any medication.”
Despite all of these activities being illegal under federal law, Oklahoma voters passed the measure by a wide margin. At press time, the vote was 57% in favor and 43% opposed.
ROAD TO THE BALLOT
The initiative was put on the ballot through a successful initiative petition effort, sponsored by Oklahomans for Health and first filed with the secretary of state’s office on April 11, 2016. Supporters needed to collect 65,987 valid signatures within 90 days of their petition being cleared for circulation. Signatures were verified in September 2016, targeting a vote on the Nov. 2016 ballot. But opponents of the measure challenged the effort and the ensuing court wasn’t resolved in favor of the initiative until March 27, 2017. On January 4, 2018, Gov. Mary Fallin (R) issued a proclamation setting the primary election on June 26, 2018, as the election date for the initiative.
The broad leeway for physicians was used as a primarily talking point for the measure’s most bitter opponents, which included law enforcement lobby groups and some leading business and political voices in the state.
32 AND COUNTING
In 1996, voters in California passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. This made the state the first in the country to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes despite a total federal prohibition on the plant.
However, the Clinton administration opposed the effort and asserted that federal enforcement would still continue. Attorney General Janet Reno said, ”We want to make clear that Federal law still applies.” In Jan. 1997, a Los Angeles Times repeated the same message, noting that “Federal officials … vowed to pursue California physicians who recommend marijuana for their patients.”
Despite these threats, the people of California moved forward with their medical marijuana industry, which grew to a whopping $2.8 billion per year. At the end of Clinton’s term in office, seven states had medical marijuana laws on the books.
That number roughly doubled to 13 by the time George W. Bush left office, and did so again by the time Barack Obama finished his two terms. At the end of 2016, there were 29 states with marijuana legalization (either medical or recreational or both) laws on the books. Last year, West Virginia became state number 30. Earlier this year, Utah became state number 31 with an extremely limited medical marijuana law, but voters there will be considering a much broader measure on the Nov. 3 ballot.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
In January, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Obama-era “Cole memo” which outlined Obama administration policy that directed federal prosecutors to take a somewhat hands-off approach in states that have legalized marijuana.
Sessions wrote, “In deciding which marijuana activities to prosecute under these laws with the Department’s finite resources, prosecutors should follow the well-established principles that govern all federal prosecutions,” by considering the seriousness of the crime and its impact on the community, according to the AP. Marijuana activists were up in arms, concerned that this could cripple the growing industry. CNN called this a “seismic shift.”
But as Tenth Amendment Center Communications Director Mike Maharrey noted, it did no such thing.
“In fact, the policy shift is just rhetoric and will have little to no practical effect in the long run,” said Maharrey
The federal government doesn’t have the personnel and resources to enforce federal marijuana laws in states where cannabis is legal. Figures indicate it would take as much as 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. This doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. Furthermore, FBI statistics show that as much as 98% of all enforcement actions are done by local law enforcement, or with their help. By ending state enforcement of any federal prohibition that is legal under state law, states like Oregon, Colorado and now Oklahoma have swept away most of the basis for the vast majority of marijuana arrests in each state.
Without state cooperation and support, the feds are essentially impotent when it comes to enforcing its unconstitutional marijuana prohibition.
The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.
By passing State Question 788, Oklahoma voters just put another long-overdue nail in the coffin of this unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition. As noted in a Tenth Amendment Center video from 2015, “It’s only a matter of time before they overwhelm federal enforcement capabilities completely, and the feds will have to act like they’ve decided to drop the issue just to save face.”