BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
Legalization proponents have prepared an initiative petition seeking a statewide popular vote on a comprehensive proposal that would legalize and decriminalize nearly all aspects of the current marijuana statute. It would create a system for personal use, retail sale, taxation, cultivation, inspection and licensing.
The petition is, according to state senator and U.S. Senate candidate Constance Johnson, the result of legislative foot-dragging on medical marijuana legislation and recent polls showing strong bipartisan populous support for legalization and decriminalization. If petitioners are successful in placing the question on the November ballot Oklahoma could possibly join the 21 other states to have legalized marijuana in some form.
A recent statewide poll showed 71.2% approval for legalized medical marijuana with albeit a slightly less, yet majority approval for decriminalization. Much like recent national surveys, these numbers cut across party, economic, racial and educational lines. A recent national Gallup poll showed an 85% approval for medical marijuana, 73% approval for decriminalization, and 58% approval for full legalization.
Oklahoma City attorney David Slane, architect of the petition, said, “This will be the most comprehensive petition thus far. It will include provisions for medical, decriminalization, sale, growing, packaging, taxing and even harvesting hemp.”
Slane says the proposal will include penalties for selling without a license, driving under the influence and workplace regulation by employers.
“You won’t,” he noted, “be able to be on the streets smoking.”
Sen. Johnson has introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana in every session since taking office in 2005. When announcing her candidacy for the U.S. Senate recently at the Tulsa Press Club, Johnson said, “Marijuana may be a defining moment in Oklahoma politics. It could turn the political pot upside down.”
Results of a Democratic and Republican polling firm operating in conjunction with George Washington University suggest the participation of likely voters would jump 68% if marijuana legalization were on the ballot.
The National Journal quoted Tom Angell, founder of the group Marijuana Majority, saying, “These numbers provide even more evidence that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue and that smart politicians would do well to start treating it as such.”
Youth voting [18 to 30 year olds] increased by 5-12 points when marijuana was on the ballot. They are not the standard carriers. The Washington University study noted voters ages 45-64 were most likely to harbor strong feelings on marijuana issues.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is the latest chief executive joining in national decriminalization. Last week he signed legislation that made possession of 10 grams or less equal to a traffic citation and fine.
Gov. O’Malley said at the time, “I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgment of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health.”
President Barack Obama waded into the weed discussion during a January interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick, saying, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol … It’s not something I encourage.”
The nations top cop, Attorney General Eric Holder, joined with the president last week during an interview with the Huffington Post, saying he was “cautiously optimistic” regarding complete decriminalization as it has taken place in Washington and Colorado. Both states began open sale of marijuana this year.
Holder cited his experience as a judge: “I had to put in jail substantial numbers of young people for possessory drug offenses, and it was not from the perspective I had as a judge necessarily a good use of law enforcement resources.”
Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart disagreed with the president on the marijuana/alcohol comparison, saying voters and legislators in all 21 states had been misled in supporting decriminalization. Another DEA official was quoted at the time that “every single parent out there” was against decriminalization.
The Washington University poll – along with the nearly 70,000 former prosecutors and law officers of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – tend to disagree with the DEA position.
Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control spokesman Mark Woodward has attempted to make the same argument. However, to date, he has offered little more than standard “war on drugs” hyperbole.
The Johnson-Slane petition is the second such effort in Oklahoma. Last week a petition was filed with the attorney general seeking the legalization of medical marijuana. The attorney general can review each petition separately to determine if he feels the wording meets legal standards and how the actual ballot should be presented to voters.
Slane has indicated the petition will be on file in the coming days. Both efforts will be required to amass slightly less than 200,000 signatures of registered voters in order to appear on the November general election ballot.
In a state known for its conservatism, that marijuana would be a wedge issue in a year many pundits have already given over to the GOP is interesting, to say the least.
Remembering that 72.1% of those polled approved of medical marijuana, and the Tea Party’s influence meant state lawmakers refused to hear the issue, the question arises as to just who the Legislature represents?
And whether their conservative agenda pushed the electorate too far?
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK, and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, The Last Day of the War, is available at https://www.createspace.com/3804081 or at www.richardfricker.com.