Public support for medical marijuana access is overwhelming and bipartisan

Public support for medical marijuana access is overwhelming and bipartisan
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A majority of Oklahomans voted to enact State Question 788 a statewide voter-initiated measure that permits doctors to use their discretion to recommend medical cannabis to those patients who they believe will benefit from it. Oklahoma is now the 31st state to legalize and regulate the use of medical cannabis under state law, and the fourteenth to do so by a direct vote of the people.

Fifty-seven percent of Oklahoma voters endorsed the plan despite organized opposition from law enforcement, political leaders like Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and Sen. Jim Lankford (R-Okla.), and other religious and civic groups.

Opponents of the measure grossly outspent SQ 788’s proponents. Specifically, organized opposition spent an estimated $500,000 in the final week of the campaign on an advertising blitz that falsely claimed that “SQ 788 was not about medical marijuana,” a mischaracterization that was previously determined to be purposely misleading as by the state Supreme Court. Nonetheless, voters remained largely unswayed, as public support held firm throughout the final months of the campaign.

The proposed law brings potentially sweeping changes to the Sooner state. Under existing Oklahoma laws, the possession of any amount of cannabis is classified as a criminal offense — punishable by up to a year in prison.

Engaging in cannabis cultivation or sales may be punishable by up to life in prison. According to a study released earlier this month, Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is 1,079 per 100,000 people — the highest rate in the United States.  

The question moving forward is: Will Oklahoma politicians let the will of the voters stand? Already, the Governor has given indications of her intention to call for a special session to amend the new law. But she and her elected colleagues should be taking just the opposite approach.

They should respect the decision of the electorate, and move swiftly to enact SQ 788 in a manner that comports with both the spirit of the law and the letter of law.

Further, Oklahoma’s politicians — and federally elected politicians as well — should once and for all stop acting as if marijuana policy reform is a partisan issue — one that is largely supported by voters on the left but often rejected by those on the right.

The fact is that majorities of voters of all political ideologies — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — support the legalization and regulation of both medical cannabis and the adult use of cannabis, even if many of their elected officials still do not.

Majorities of both parties further agree that state lawmakers, not the federal government, ought to be the primary arbiters of marijuana policy.  

This consensus should provide further impetus for federal lawmakers to once and for all resolve the existing and ever-growing state and federal divide over marijuana policy.

It is time for members to move forward with legislation like The States Act, The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, or The Marijuana Justice Act, each of which would allow states the flexibility and autonomy to regulate cannabis as best they see fit — free from the looming threat of undue federal intervention. At a minimum, Congressional leaders like Rep. Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate Republicans face tough decision on replacing Ginsburg What Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies Biden says Ginsburg successor should be picked by candidate who wins on Nov. 3 MORE (R-Iowa), Chair of the Senate Judiciary, and Rep. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteNo documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden Press: Trump's final presidential pardon: himself USCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction MORE (R-Va.), Chair of the House Judiciary, should end their obstructionism and allow these bills to be both heard and voted upon in their respective committees.

American voters believe that ending America’s failed marijuana prohibition laws is a common-sense issue, not a partisan one. It’s time for their elected officials take a similar posture.

 Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.