Tahlequah Daily Press

November 14, 2012

Many say pot-smoking should be legal

By ROB W. ANDERSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — As voters across the country registered their opinions on who should occupy the White House, the majority of voters in Colorado and Washington said as far as they’re concerned, it’s OK to inhale.

Marijuana legalization measures, for recreational use, were passed last week in both states.

Medical marijuana is already legal in both states, but private possession or consumption was not, until the Nov. 6 election.

According to Colorado’s Amendment 64, or the Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act of 2012, the measure will alter the state constitution to provide for regulation of the Schedule 1 drug.

The new law would permit a person 21 or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana; provide for the licensing of cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail stores; permit local governments to regulate or prohibit such facilities; require the general assembly to enact an excise tax to be levied upon wholesale sales of marijuana; require the first $40 million in revenue raised annually by such tax be credited to the public school capital construction assistance fund; and require the general assembly to enact legislation controlling the development of land for growing, processing and sale of industrial hemp.

Specifically for the voter, Amendment 64 means a private individual who is 21 or older can possess or consume up to an ounce, or 28.5 grams, of marijuana, while cultivation limits allow an individual to possess six plants, with three or fewer being mature, flowering plants.

The premises must be enclosed and locked, and the plants can’t be cultivated openly or publicly or made available for sale. Cultivation remains banned in Washington.

Nothing in the measure, per Amendment 64, is intended to require an employer to permit or accommodate the use or possession of marijuana in the workplace or affect the employer’s ability to restrict the use of marijuana by employees.

In July, Oklahoma Sen. Connie Johnson, D-Forest Park, asked for an interim study into medical marijuana and was granted approval, said Sen. Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah.

“The chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, Sen. Brian Crain, declined to have the committee hear the study request as of Oct. 3. On that date, we – I’m a member of that committee – were hearing testimony on the benefits of expanding smokeless tobacco usage,” Wilson said. “You heard right: Sen. Johnson suggested her study for legalizing medical marijuana had just as much merit. The reply from Sen. Crain was she could not produce experts similar to those advocating for smokeless tobacco. Those experts, actual doctors, did research paid for by tobacco companies to support their initiative.”

Neither voters nor the Legislature will take up a measure to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma, said Wilson.

“Since federal law still sees marijuana as illegal in all forms, what I predict is the new laws in Colorado and Washington will be tested in the courts and ultimately the Supreme Court will decide if marijuana should be legal or illegal nationally,” he said. “That will take the decision away from Oklahoma, or at least make it a state issue, like liquor sales. Will Rogers said about liquor: ‘Oklahomans vote dry as long as they can stagger to the polls.’ This appears to be similar.”

Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, agrees that the likelihood of marijuana’s being legalized in the state is nil.

“I don’t ever see that happening – at least, not in my lifetime,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen because we’re a part of the Bible Belt, and most folks feel it’s wrong. I probably would not support it, but I would support looking at the laws we passed, [possibly] changing some of the statutes that we have on sentencing. Like changing prison time to community sentencing or some other form of punishment, rather than sending them down to Big Mac. We’re overcrowded right now.”

Brown added that marijuana presented in pill form for medical purposes may be accepted by voters, if accompanied by proven benefit.

“That’d be the only way the public here would be satisfied with it, if it’s beneficial in a pill form. That would be the only thing I could see people accepting, but I don’t believe it’ll ever happen in Oklahoma,” he said.

Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault noted that regardless of voter opinion, marijuana remains a prohibited substance, and he believes it will remain as such.

“I don’t see it happening here. They’re still going to have to deal with the federal law, and it would still be considered illegal,” Chennault said.

“I don’t think [medical marijuana will] ever happen here. This is the Bible Belt and people are not going to go for it. I don’t think it’s as big a problem as the meth problem. Unless it’s a large amount, it’s a misdemeanor here. We don’t see that much marijuana that comes out of traffic stops.”

Marijuana should be decriminalized and legalized nationally and should be regulated and taxed like tobacco and alcohol, said Tony O’seland, who responded to the Daily Press’ Facebook poll on the legalization of pot in the state.

“As a matter of fiscal responsibility, pot should be treated the same way tobacco and alcohol is handled: Franchise it,” he said.

“If the feds would simply utilize some of the existing agencies and expand their purview, it could be grown as a bulk crop, sold on open auction like tobacco, manufactured and packaged like cigarettes and sold through the same distribution centers that handle alcohol. It’s a four-way tax benefit: All of the stages are taxed, and consumption is controlled by the same laws as beverages.”

Shannon Grimes agrees that marijuana “may as well be legal.”

“It’s not like being illegal is stopping its use. The only thing being illegal is doing is empowering the criminal elements that capitalize on the prohibition, creating more crime and violence than otherwise would exist,” he said. “You know, kinda like the mob during alcohol prohibition.”

Billie Walker believes medical marijuana may present a benefit to patients in need, but she does not support easy access.

“Either way, people are going to continue to be stupid. Legal or not, they will find a way to get their smoke, but we don’t have to make it easy for them,” she said. “Smoking pot fries your brain, but if you’re sick or old and sick, I say why not.”

Linda Kay Hobbs Baird agrees medicinal marijuana should be made available to approved patients in Oklahoma.

“I don’t think marijuana should be legalized in Oklahoma, unless people really need it for cancer or really severe pain,” she said.

Leon Briggs pointed to a study ordered by a former president as reason why marijuana should be legalized for medical treatments.

“The public needs to be aware of the Virginia study in 1974 ordered by President [Richard] Nixon,” he said. “In that study, researchers at the Medical College of Virginia, who had been funded by the National Institutes of Health to find evidence that marijuana damages the immune system, found instead that THC slowed the growth of three kinds of cancer in mice – lung, breast cancer and virus-induced leukemia.

The DEA quickly shut down the Virginia study and all further cannabis/tumor research, according to Jack Herer, who reported on the events in his book ‘The Emperor Wears No Clothes.’”

Carolyn Hawley believes legalizing marijuana might provide better ways of controlling the substance.

“I was thinking about reading some time ago about bootleg liquor and how legalizing it helped control it,” she said.