After the start of the new year, Governor Mary Fallin has said she plans to set an election date for a medical marijuana ballot measure — State Question 788.
The announcement has reignited conversations on both sides of the issue, but those lobbying for the measure and lawmakers agree – when it comes to a vote, the sooner the better.
Governor Fallin will determine if the question will appear on the June primary ballot or during the general election in November.
"Placing the question on the primary ballot in June makes sense to me, given the length of time that has expired since the initiative petition gained the required number of signatures," said Rep. Mark Lepak. "I prefer not to spend taxpayer dollars on a statewide special election unless the circumstances are extraordinary."
Chip Paul, co-founder of Oklahoman's for Health and a Claremore business owner, said the sooner the better.
"The sooner this is on the ballot, if it passes, the sooner it gets it in the hands of patients," Paul said.
Lawmakers and and lobbyists on both sides of the issue agree — the ballot measure will have a significant impact on voter turnout and voter demographic.
"This will probably create a huge voter turnout, which will effect the other races," Paul said, adding that the result could be a 'pro-cannabis governor.' "And it will absolutely change voter demographic. This isn't just a left-leaning democrat issue. We have very right-wing religious individuals, we have farmers, we have someone from every demographic. It's a very unifying issue."
The issue of medicinal marijuana is proving to be a hot topic across party lines, Lepak said.
Lepak said during the last election, while he was knocking on the doors of his Oklahoma constituents there were a handful of standard issues that were the first to be brought up — his stance on abortion, the second amendment, and education.
These were followed quickly by questions about medical marijuana.
"And I didn't anticipate that at all during a republican primary," he said. "I know there's a lot of passion on this, on both sides."
While Lepak said he's on the fence about the benefits of medical marijuana, he does anticipate the measure will pass.
"There are a growing number of people who are in favor of giving it a try. I voted to allow the use of cannabidiol oil, which lacks THC and is not psychoactive, but I have my doubts as to medical marijuana's medical benefits. Doctors I know, including a brother who also has an advanced degree in pharmacology, tell me we have much better medicines available today," Lepak said. "Furthermore, I hear people on both sides of the issue acknowledge that, if the question is approved, it is more likely that recreational marijuana will eventually be legalized. We should weigh that possibility while considering the immediate question. All that said, I think it will pass."
Paul, and Oklahomans for Health, feel passionately about the medical benefits.
He said there's been "over 49,000 studies done on the benefits" and the result is what he calls "overwhelming and indisputable evidence."
Additionally, he said, medical marijuana provides a natural alternative to pharmaceutical options currently on the market. Paul also believes the legalization of medical marijuana could ease the state's current opioid epidemic.
"Roughly 165 people die every day because of our opioid epidemic," he said, adding that pain medication is a key contributor to that epidemic. "And medical cannabis is a great pain reliever."
If the measure passes, Oklahoma would join the 29 other states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal use. If approved, the measure would allow doctors to recommend state-issued medical marijuana licenses for patients at least 25-years old. Patients would then be allowed to legally possess up to three ounces of marijuana, six mature plants and six seedlings.