OK: Medical Marijuana Proponents Hold Hope For Future Ballot Measure

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Oklahoma City – For the third straight year, Oklahoma medical marijuana advocates have come up short in their effort to get the issue on the state ballot, but this time it wasn’t signatures they were lacking. It was time.

Oklahomans for Health volunteers met the required 65,987-signature threshold with 67,761 signatures within the legally mandated 90-day period. They turned them in to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office 19 days before the Aug. 30 statutory deadline.

But Oklahoma Election Board spokesperson Brian Dean said there simply wasn’t enough time to count the signatures, approve the ballot language modified by Attorney General Scott Pruitt and allow for the public review period.

The ballots for the Nov. 8 election are nearly through the approval and printing process, and medical marijuana is not on them.

“The deadline for turning in signatures has nothing to do with getting on a ballot in time,” Dean said. “People who really want to make the ballot in time turn signatures in earlier.

“For example, we had two criminal justice reform state questions on the ballot, and those signatures were turned in in June, and they just barely made it. There’s just no way to know how long legal things are going to take.”

Medical marijuana could still come to Oklahoma, but for many proponents of State Question 788, the delay is a tough hit to take.

More than 100 protestors gathered Tuesday on the second floor of the Capitol building to voice disapproval, chanting slogans like “vote them out” and sharing stories of how medical marijuana affected their lives.

Among them was certified hospice nurse and activist Latisha Spangler. She called the decision to push ahead without SQ 788 a “slap in the face” to Oklahomans.

“The third time was a charm,” she said. “We got the signatures we needed. We did our job and played by their rules. We turned it in on time, and now it’s time for them to do their job.

“Right away, it wasn’t 15 hours after we turned in the signatures that they were telling us that they didn’t have the manpower to count all of those signatures. We felt like there was no justice in it.”

Spangler joined the cause because she said medical marijuana helped treat her cancer without severe side effects associated with other cancer treatments.

“It was impossible to eat or drink. I got down to 87 pounds and I was dying,” she said.

After her diagnosis at age 21 and a hysterectomy at 22, she said she started smoking cannabis, beat cancer and continued to educate herself.

Another demonstrator, former Oklahoma National Guardsman James Cooper, called the decision a “disgrace to the state.”

While in Kuwait, he was exposed to depleted uranium.

“Since then, it’s been destroying my cells on a molecular level,” Cooper said.

He said it was killing him. For him, the answer was medical cannabis.

“When my health got really bad, I became a refugee, essentially. I went to Oregon, which had medical marijuana, got on a regiment and it saved my life,” he said.

Cooper said he returned home to Oklahoma when he got healthy but said it’s a shame that many Oklahomans have to uproot their lives to get the medicine they need.

“If I didn’t get healthy, I would have had to stay there,” he said. “How many people are there like me? And how many people are we arresting every year? What are we asking for here?

“We’re asking to replace the prison society that we have today, the police state that we have today, and we’re asking to replace that with doctors and medical professionals, people who can use plant-based chemistry to solve illnesses that are affecting Oklahomans in a large way.

“They’re telling me, ‘No. We’re not going to let that happen. I know you served overseas for the state of Oklahoma, but screw you because we have to support the private prison industry, the continual rise of the police state and how dare you – a free Oklahoman – come out against this.’ It’s all freedom and patriotism until it doesn’t jive with their agenda.”

Some protestors pushed for medical marijuana and then some, but Melissa Krupovoge said medical was her only motivation. She suffers from brain tumors and said the drug is effective in treating her chronic headaches without damaging her liver, like some of the many prescription pills she has taken to combat cancer.

“[Recreational marijuana] is not what this is about,” Krupovoge said. “I think people are ignorant about the issue. I think there’s a fear, but we’re talking about medicine.”

Dean said if and when the language is approved, the measure could end up on a special election ballot (unlikely with a $1 million-plus price tag) or the next state election ballot in 2018.

Gov. Mary Fallin has the authority to call a special election but cannot veto or thwart a state question from appearing on the ballot if it has made it through all of the hoops.

Oklahomans for Health board member and former Oklahoma House Rep. Joe Dorman said he was disappointed by the news and said it raises some questions.

“The time stamp on when the secretary of state sent the documents to the Supreme Court was Monday,” Dorman said. “I’m not really sure why, because they finished their count last Tuesday.”

Still, he said the petition was given a fair chance and its postponement was a result of a complex process.

“It will be eligible for a future ballot – either a special election or in June or November of 2018,” Dorman said. “I think it will pass. The response that we’ve received from Oklahomans has been tremendous. The fact that this was the first all-volunteer effort to get a petition through the first steps of the process speaks volumes about the interest of Oklahomans.”

Norman Realtor Ariel Derrick has gathered medical marijuana petition signatures as a volunteer for the past three years. She said she feels confident the measure will pass once it gets on the ballot.

“The last two times we went out to get signatures, some people were afraid to sign it. This time around, people were educated on the medical benefits, and our Congress needs to get educated.”

She said it’s relieving to know their efforts weren’t in vain, but for people in need of medicine, any delay is too long.

“Everybody is saying, ‘You are just going to have to wait until 2018,’” Spangler said. “How many cancer patients and children are going to suffer and die between now and 2018? Too many. Too many.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Medical Marijuana Proponents Hold Hope For Future Ballot Measure
Author: Mack Burke
Contact: 405-321-1800
Photo Credit: Mack Burke
Website: The Norman Transcript