Voters in Oklahoma recently approved medical marijuana, making the Sooner State the 30th in the nation to do so. State Question 778 made it to the ballot through signature petition and passed by a 10-point margin. The program is widely considered to be one of the most liberal implemented so far, allowing physicians to prescribe cannabis for a broad range of ailments – with no clear list of qualifying conditions. However, proponents have since had mixed after state lawmakers held an emergency session, voting to fast-track the program while at the same time deciding to ban smokable flower (opting instead for extracts and edibles) and requiring dispensaries to employ licensed pharmacists at their facilities, a move that is being lauded as a step backward.
The decision to ban cannabis flower comes after pressure from the medical community who state that smoking marijuana can have negative health effects, much like smoking tobacco. Oklahoma Board of Health member Charles Skilling, the CEO of a hospital in Shawnee, initially proposed the ban citing concerns about public safety. Dr. Jean Hausheer, President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, who was opposed to State Question 778, stated that the move was made with the intention of ensuring patients get consistent doses of cannabinoids without the potentially negative effects of inhaling combusted materials.
Advocates for medical cannabis argue that patients deserve the right to choose the way they consume their medicine and plan to fight the Board of Health's decision.
"The people were clear. They wanted to be able to smoke medical marijuana," said former state Sen. Connie Johnson, a longtime advocate for legalized marijuana, in an interview with ABC News.
Two pro-cannabis groups, Oklahoma Cannabis Trade Association and Oklahomans For Health, held a joint news conference on Wednesday in response to the move, calling it “not responsible.”
Chip Paul, one of the original authors of State Question 778, said that he would be taking the Board of Health to court over their decision, stating Oklahoman citizens' rights were violated.
"There’s no way in 788 we expected anyone to take away our right to smoke medical marijuana," he said. Paul added that despite the move, having access to some types of cannabis is still a win for thousands of patients across the state who may be able to benefit. The issue is that smoking cannabis offers faster relief for some, a point that Paul states must be understood by the powers that be.
Having to add board-certified pharmacists to dispensary staff is also an undue financial burden on many businesses, which will be forced to increase prices for consumers. Medical cannabis is not covered by insurance, and raising costs will only hurt patients.
“We the people spoke June 26th,” said medical marijuana advocate Nora Sapp during the press conference. “We didn’t ask for permission. We told them what we are going to do.”
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