The Norman Transcript

May 29, 2014

Pushing for pot legalization

By Janelle Stecklein
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — Fannie Bates stood outside the Capitol on Wednesday, clutching a sign that read “Marijuana can keep me from going blind.”

“I wouldn’t smoke it,” said Bates, 64, of Red Oak. “But I would put it in brownies and just take a tiny chunk every day like a vitamin. It wouldn’t be enough to make me high. It’d just be enough to keep me from going blind.”

Bates said four generations her family have suffered from glaucoma, and said she believes marijuana is the only thing standing between her and sure blindness should she be diagnosed.

She was among the first to sign a petition seeking support for legalized medical marijuana. Should Tulsa-based Oklahomans for Health gather nearly 160,000 signatures from registered voters in the next 90 days, the question will go to voters in November.

Chip Paul, the group's chairman, said the effort marks the first time any group has tried to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

Paul said he's optimistic that “a giant effort” will net the requisite signatures. People are going door-to-door for signatures in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, he said, and the movement will soon spread to the smaller communities.

Paul wouldn’t say how many signatures the movement has collected. But he cited polling numbers from December than show 70 percent of Oklahomans support a medical marijuana initiative.

“I think people just have a lot of preconceived notions about the whole medical marijuana effort,” he said. “I think a lot of people think it’s just sort of a sneaky way to get a recreational marijuana law passed. And that’s furthest from the truth.”

Mark Woodward, the spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, said they are encouraging people not to sign the petition — at least until they fully research the issue on both sides.

“We’re very concerned about it,” he said. “We’re seeing the problems they’re dealing with in the states that have had it legalized.”

He said the legalization of marijuana in Colorado has been painted as wonderful, but “they’re dealing with a much darker situation that’s not getting the publicity.”

He cited concerns that drug cartels have moved into the state and opened dispensaries from which they are dealing and also shipping drugs cross-country and running money-laundering operations.

In addition, he said there are issues with fraud — people getting prescriptions who don’t really need it — and difficulty regulating the industry. He said there are already safer, stronger, more effective treatments for the illnesses people claim they need it.

“There’s a very small group that needs it for medical and a much larger group that wants it for recreational,” he said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dax Ewbank, who attended the rally that drew several dozen supporters, said legalized marijuana is one of those “taboo topics” in Oklahoma. He said he would legalize medical marijuana, if elected.

He noted supporters for medical marijuana have to overcome “100 years of propaganda" and a lot of money invested in a drug war.

“I’m not crazy about this bill, about that petition,” he said. “It’s a little bit too big government for me. However, what I am crazy about is getting people to think rationally and compassionately about this issue.”

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