Osage County District Attorney Rex Duncan voiced concern that if Question 788 is approved June 26, he might not be able as an employer to “discriminate” against an employee in his office who wanted a break to use medical marijuana.
“It is just counterintuitive given our mission statement,” Duncan said in an interview, “not to mention at odds with the prosecutorial decisions we make.”
“That makes no sense at all,” he said. “What about Walmart? What about the post office?”
“Would we have to accommodate a juror in a dope case to take a recess to smoke a joint?” Duncan said.
Sheriff Eddie Virden said the public needs to be sure “this is the road they want to go down before they go down it.”
“Neither Rex or I, either one, want to make the decision for the public,” Virden said. He also argued that there is a difference between “older” strains of marijuana with which many people may be familiar, and newer, genetically engineered marijuana. He characterized them as “two totally different monsters.”
“This isn’t your 1960’s pot,” Virden said. He is a veteran of drug-enforcement work.
“To me, it’s Pandora’s Box once we open it,” Virden said. “I just think people really, really need to do their research.”
Duncan’s GOP primary opponent Mike Fisher also opposes Question 788, which he says is poorly written.
And Virden and Duncan speak of the effect on their work of public approval in November 2016 of state questions 780 and 781. The public’s adoption of measures proposed in Question 780 led to the reclassification of some drug and property offenses as misdemeanors. The changes became effective July 1, 2017.
Passage of Question 780, which received a yes vote of 58.23 percent, according to the non-partisan group Ballotpedia, changed drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor. Drug manufacturing, trafficking and sale continued to be felonies. Question 781 called for re-allocation of money saved as a result of reduced prison costs to help pay for rehabilitation of offenders.
Prior to public approval of questions 780 and 781, the state Legislature in its 2016 session passed measures that raised the dollar value for a felony property crime from $500 to $1,000, and gave prosecutors authority to handle some non-violent property crimes as misdemeanors rather than felonies. Those changes took effect Nov. 1, 2016. The bills were H.B. 2751 and H.B. 2472.
Duncan talks in outraged tones about a Hominy incident, in which people burglarizing a school building had possession of methamphetamine, but the drug-possession aspect of the crime could only be prosecuted as a misdemeanor. The burglary was still a felony.
Mike Fisher said the change that Question 780 brought about regarding drug possession is having the effect of undermining the use of drug courts. Fisher argues that prosecutors need the leverage of a felony charge to make drug court programs effective.
Virden said property crime victims are often surprised to learn that people who have taken their money or possessions won’t serve prison time because the definition of a felony property crime has changed.
“They get furious,” he said, arguing that victims need justice.
Gil DuPont, Virden’s jail lieutenant, recalled a case involving an elderly man, from whom drug users stole a new lawnmower. The crime victim figured out who took his property and cooperated with law enforcement, but was shocked to discover that the definition of a felony property crime had changed.
“He presented himself as a voter,” DuPont said. “He’s demanding justice.”
DuPont’s position was that too many voters voted in favor of state questions without knowing the practical effects of their votes.
“They’re just checking ‘yes’ on stuff,” he said.
Virden, in regard to medical cannabis generating revenue, said there are plenty of alarming choices one could make for the sake of income.
“We could sell our children, too,” he said. “There’s a lot of money you could make different ways.”
If Question 788 passes, a seven-percent tax would be levied on marijuana sales to cover expenses.
laws will be enforced
Chip Paul, author of the medical marijuana question on the ballot June 26, dismisses the idea that a vote for Question 788 is a vote to create a special class of employees with the right to use marijuana.
“That’s just tripe,” he said. “It doesn’t give somebody the right to smoke in their office.”
Paul said that medical cannabis use would have to take place within the context of existing laws, regulations and rules about workplace behavior, to include whether employees are allowed to work while under the influence of substances that may affect perception and judgment.
“I think there will be fewer participants than everybody expects because of this physician requirement,” Paul said. He participated in a panel discussion recently at the Osage County Health Department in Pawhuska.
Support for Question 788 is support for the licensed cultivation, possession and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. To obtain a license, one would have to get a signature from a board-certified physician. There are no set qualifying conditions. Licenses would be required for growing operations and dispensaries. Municipalities would not be allowed to use zoning-law changes to prevent the establishment of dispensaries.
Paul said he fully expects if Question 788 passes that there will be substantial state regulation.
Legislators worked during their 2018 session on measures — H.B. 3468 and S.B. 1120 — that were intended to address in detail various questions about medical marijuana. Neither measure became law, but each measure passed out of the chamber in which it was initiated.
Paul said the intent behind not creating a checklist of conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed is to push physicians to actually examine and evaluate patients.
“We’re the first state in the nation to do that,” he said. When physicians are just checking boxes on forms and agreeing that marijuana might help with certain conditions, they don’t have ethical and legal skin in the game, he said.
Paul describes himself as an endocannabinoid researcher. He is also one of the founders of Oklahomans for Health, which worked to put the medical marijuana on the ballot.
The endocannabinoid system is a biological system that is the subject of ongoing research, particularly in regard to the potential usefulness of medical cannabis. Paul has an upbeat view of the potential of medical cannabis, describing it as being “like a magic screwdriver to manipulate your master regulatory system.”
Paul anticipates a special session of the Legislature soon after the June 26 vote, if Question 788 is successful. He is positive about elements of H.B. 3468.
“A lot of that language is stuff that we can agree with,” he said. “We think the Cannabis Commission is a good idea.”
Norma Sapp, executive director of Oklahoma NORML, a state chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, participated in the Pawhuska panel discussion, as did Chris Moe, an activist who calls himself “Uncle Grumpy.”
Paul said that polling data appear to indicate majority support for Question 788. He said some data from January 2018 showed 62-percent support. In April, a group opposed to Question 788 came up with 57-percent support, he said. When poll respondents are told that physicians will be required to supervise whether a person should receive a medical marijuana license, the support level rises to 72 percent, Paul said.
Moe said there is plenty of marijuana in Oklahoma now, but what’s needed is a regulated system.
“It’s totally disingenuous,” Moe said. “Who thinks we don’t have cannabis in the state right now? There is no moral argument to this that can hold water.”
Tjuana Boulanger of Pawhuska, who supports Question 788 and has publicly campaigned for it by putting up a table downtown and talking to people about it, says it’s time for people to see the change coming and make an adjustment. She also said she thinks many supporters of Question 788 in Pawhuska are afraid to voice their feelings publicly.