Legislators could rewrite medical marijuana law before Oklahomans vote on SQ 788

Advocates for medical marijuana in Oklahoma were riding high after collecting nearly 66,000 signatures to put State Question 788 up for a vote of the people. SQ 788 would allow people to apply for a medical marijuana license with the recommendation of a doctor, and license holders would be able to possess useable marijuana and plants in generous quantities. On the spectrum of state medical marijuana laws, SQ 788 falls on the more permissive end, with relatively few restrictions on how marijuana is grown and distributed and who qualifies to use the drug.

Concerns about this permissiveness prompted some legislators to introduce bills this session that would reduce the scope of medical marijuana in Oklahoma. While some changes to the law are advisable, especially to create a devoted regulatory body and give the state more time to implement SQ 788, one bill – SB 1120 – would make the measure unrecognizable before voters even have a chance to express their opinion on the matter.

SB 1120 would set up one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country

On all fronts, SQ 788 would set up a relatively relaxed medical marijuana regulatory system. The language does not specify which conditions qualify for a medical marijuana license; among the 29 states that have legalized the drug, only California shares that attribute. The measure also puts few restrictions on dispensaries aside from keeping them 1,000 feet from schools.

[pullquote]“The first offense of providing medical marijuana to a person who does not have a prescription includes a mandatory minimum of one year in prison and up to five years. Given our state’s struggle to reduce its prison population, this would be a giant leap in the wrong direction.”[/pullquote]

This session, Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City) introduced SB 1120, a proposal that would drastically change SQ 788 as it’s written. Only people who are terminally ill or have one of four serious conditions would qualify for a license, and patients would be able to possess only a 30-day supply of the amount prescribed by their doctor. By comparison, Alaska, which has the most restrictive laws on obtaining medical marijuana according to a 2014 study, has a list of eight conditions that qualify for a prescription.

The bill also creates much stricter regulations on licensing and documentation and lays out specific testing and certification requirements for those growing, transporting, and dispensing marijuana – contrary to SQ 788’s language.

Most concerning is the harsh punishment that the bill would impose on people convicted of “criminal diversion of medical marijuana.” The first offense of providing medical marijuana to a person who does not have a prescription includes a mandatory minimum of one year in prison and up to five years. Given our state’s struggle to reduce its prison population, this would be a giant leap in the wrong direction.

SB 1120 failed its first vote in the Senate, but was reconsidered and passed narrowly. It has been assigned to the House Judiciary committee.

HB 3468 would create an agency to produce regulations on a realistic timeline

Legislators looking for a measured approach to implementing and regulating medical marijuana should instead look to HB 3468. The proposal by Rep. John Paul Jordan (R-Yukon) would create an Oklahoma Cannabis Commission to regulate the state’s medical marijuana system, taking that responsibility from the embattled Department of Health. It would lengthen the deadline to set up regulatory processes from the very aggressive 30 days after passage set by SQ 788 to 120 days. 

HB 3468 would also create an Oklahoma Cannabis Commission Governing Board within the Department of Health to make important implementation decisions until the permanent Commission is put into place. The Governing Board would consist of physicians, lawyers, law enforcement, and others with important perspectives on the regulatory questions raised by medical marijuana.

The Oklahoma Cannabis Commission would be given a considerable amount of power to regulate the industry and to propose statutory changes to the state’s medical marijuana laws. This follows the example of many other states, including our neighbors in Arkansas. Members would be proposed by the Attorney General, legislative leaders, and government agencies, and all would be approved by the Governor. With that makeup, it’s likely that the Commission would be a cautious but accountable governing body.

HB 3468 passed out of the House and awaits committee assignment in the Senate.

SB 1175 would require a database of medical marijuana users and dispensaries

Though it has no direct impact on who can use or dispense medical marijuana, another bill – SB 1175 – would still make significant changes to the proposal. The bill would add medical marijuana to a list of dangerous substances, including opiates and codeine, that are tracked in a central database by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics. 

By contrast, SQ 788 directs the Department of Health to keep very limited records on license holders: their photo, the expiration date of the license, the county where the license was issued, and an identification number. While creating a database of medical marijuana prescribers, dispensaries, and recipients may help to identify and prevent the unaccountable, high-volume prescribers seen in other states, it could also potentially be co-opted by a federal Justice Department that has signaled it wants to come after marijuana even where it has been legalized at the state level.

Oklahoma needs a well-functioning regulatory agency for medical marijuana

Many important issues must be carefully considered as a state establishes its medical marijuana regime, and setting up the Oklahoma Cannabis Commission through HB 3468 is a smart way to prepare for the possible passage of SQ 788. It invests wide regulatory power in a mostly balanced commission to closely study and adjust the state’s medical marijuana system should SQ 788 pass. 

This task is better left to a dedicated agency rather than the restrictive and punitive approach dictated by SB 1120 and implied by SB 1175. Polling suggests SQ 788 has strong support across the state. Legislators should resist the temptation to preempt the measure with a drastic rewrite before voters have a chance to weigh in.

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Ryan Gentzler worked at OK Policy from January 2016 until November 2022. He last served as the organization's Reserach Director and oversaw Open Justice Oklahoma. He began at OK Policy as an analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

36 thoughts on “Legislators could rewrite medical marijuana law before Oklahomans vote on SQ 788

  1. Leave the Bill alone completely, we all signed it as is and need no bias and ignorant help at all from any of you so called representatives. You back off or be punished in history and elsewhere in any polls. Let us vote on it as is and we will let you ruling elites know when we need your medical advise. David Benjamin Boykin. DAV US ARMY!

  2. Do not try to pass anything that would alter SQ788.
    Let SQ788 pass without any alterations unless voted on and approved by the people of Oklahoma.

  3. Dr. Yen is a anesthesiologist and and has no specialty in Holistic medicine. he owns interest in several pharmaceutical companies. he vested in big pharma. And he is in with for profit prisons. He gets money from the liquor lobbies. and he is in on the opioid crisis in Oklahoma. He authored SB 1120 which in effect guts SB788. 788 will be voted on 06/26/2018.he is trying to back door destruction of a bill, that if passes by a vote of the citizens of Oklahoma. He is an evil and conflicted man. please call your representatives and inform them to fight for you and not for his special interests. Ho Che Yen must be stopped (his real name Is Ervin Yen). he is a crooked and unscrupulous politician. If they do have their way, it will be against the lawful VOTE of the of the people of our state. When his re-election comes up, vote him and all his minions are run out of office. SB1120 is the bill we are not going to allowed to vote on. VOTE YES ON HB788. Call your reps and let them know THE WILL THE CANNOT BE TREAD UPONUPON. MOGA! MAKE OKLAHOMA GREEN ALREADY!

  4. Yen has ownership in a dozen or so pharmacies so his bill benefits him financially otherwise he could lose out on a lot of medications being sold. Corruption. It’s the Oklahoma way.

  5. There is no Health and Human Services Committee in the House; that is a Senate committee. SB 1120 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

  6. Regulation is a good thing if the right people are monitoring it . The State Needs this income, hear the people, fear the people, we the people.

  7. Attempts by Yen to nullify the will of the people is exactly why the previous attempts for a Constitutional Amendment were attempted. As long as they can, they will try to water-down any bill. Yen’s financial connections should prevent his introduction of regulations in SB 1120 due to conflicts of interest. Green the Vote will try again for a CA to prevent rewriting by the Legislature this fall. I don’t believe the majority population have the intelligence to move this state into the 21st century. Much like Trump, they will kick and scream anti-cannabis to keep from admitting they no knowledge of cannabis, how it affects you and that they were wrong. Even HB 3468 treats Okies that wish to try cannabis to alleviate health problems as criminals instead of patients. The mindset of this state is they do not equate prescription medicine as drug use apparently because they bought their meds in a Drug Store instead of on the street corner.

  8. Yen doesn’t have anyone running against him so he thinks of himself now. We the people don’t matter to a lot of these politicians that don’t have anyone running against them.

  9. This bill should be renamed, “how can we protect our for-profit prison system bill” Oklahoma government is a bunch of tyrants, who only looks after themselves! They forgot, they work for the people!

  10. ” among the 29 states that have legalized the drug, only California shares that attribute.”

    error- both DC and Massachusetts programs share it as well

  11. Leave SQ788 as it is and as it was approved by the signatures of Oklahomans provided. I am a 100% disabled combat veteran, permanent and total and individually unemployable. Those of us that have to take pain medication daily from pharmaceuticals truly need to be able to medicate our pain holistically instead of synthetically as we have been forever as Dr. Yen knows very well. Leave SQ788 alone. Let it stand as it is.

  12. Ok so to the people who want to regulate this or take it out of voters hands. How about we band together and throw your sorry asses out of office? It is a right of the people to impeach you from your offices if you are failing to represent the public correctly. If you take it out of the voters hands and take it upon yourselves then you are doing it for your own selfish benefits and are more than likely padding your own pockets with money coming from Pharmacies and/or private prison corporations.

  13. Don’t do it! You will be replaced.
    How dare you obstruct the will of the people of the Great State of Oklahoma.

  14. First off the elitist Sen. Yen has NO BUSINESS changing that law, he’s an anesthesiologist not a family medicine Dr, ppain management Dr or even a pharmacist so I fail to see where his experience is useful here. He’s building an ignorant and ttalitarian bill that has no place in our government. Millions of oklahomans suffer from PTSD, debilitating anxiety and cchronic pain but this monster doesn’t care about them. I agree more restrictions sshould be in place but these unfeeling closed minded and out of touch reps & senator’s have gone too far with an extremely over reactive bill. Stop listening to this mad man (Sen Yen) and help the people you took an oath to care for. They have forgotten that SQ788 merely grants the freedom of choice for medical marijuana, it doesn’t make it mandatory.

  15. HB1120 will effectively stop any medical marijuana. The way the penalties are written any sheriff or prosecutor, who doesn’t like the law, can charge a Doctor with a felony, just charging that the single Doctor with Felony “Criminal diversion of medical marijuana” (even when the charge is known to be bogus, they will not care). Even when the “NOT GUILTY” comes and the Doctor goes free, his life will be ruined and all other Doctors will refuse to treat and prescribe Medical Marijuana. Saying to themselves “who needs this.”

    Anyone that feels Dr. Yen doesn’t understand this is not “FOLLOWING THE MONEY”

  16. Leave HB 788 alone. It’s fine just how it is! We are the people who sign a petition to get this measure on the ballot and (Yen) doesn’t have the right to change the will of the people by introducing such an outlandish HB 1120 and HB 1175 is absurd, it and doesn’t. And Jordan wants HB 3468 to create this committee so more regulations can be put on this bill. These representatives need to realize that we have spoken enough to bring this measure to to the ballots

  17. Once more the ruling elite, who control private prisons, want to change SQ 788 with SQ1120 to further criminalize, target and imprison marijuana users. The private prison industry cant profit from slave labor uf the prisons are empty. As a 100% service connected disabled Army vet, SQ788 is needed without changes. We signed a petition for SQ788. Nothing more. History shows that when the ballot fails, unfortunately civil unrest fails. Sad.

    Casca Rufio Longinius DAV US Army

  18. I truly get disgusted when I see a politician put his profits above the will of the people. I pray this bill passes unmolested by an idealogue who probably needs to be investigated for his very close ties to the opiate pushers that are going down one by one as the states go after them. Someone should audit the good doctor and see how many prescriptions he issues a month. Why are some folks so against natural medicine anyway? Isn’t keeping people out of jail and the criminal justice system for petty stuff a good thing? I don’t want to be hooked on opiates to stop my pain. That makes things much worse!

  19. I am a cancer patient once again, fighting for my life. Oklahoma needs Hb788 passed without prejudice. We are always behind every other state for getting what we need. I need more positivity in mmy life. Vote YES for HB788.

  20. If Oklahahoma politicians want less prison population for non violent offenders s.q. 788 is thee answer.
    If Oklahoma vote this in our politicians who try to rewrite it will bbe voted out by those who voted s.q. 7788 in !!!
    This law is way past due. If we can use a plant God put on this earth isn’t that better than pain pills,sleeping pills, nausea pills,etc.?
    It is inhumane not to offer natural medicine to help cancer patients, patients in pain,people with terminal illness, people with severe anxiety and depression,people with relentless insomnia and nausea etc.etc.
    Only people who will lose are pharmaceutical companies and those who make profit from private prisons?
    This bill would change many patients options to non addictive medication with little to no side effects.
    Our laws are out dated by old inaccurate beliefs and such propaganda
    The vote should stand with no changes.

  21. Please Please everyone vote YES for SQ 788. Let’s get the bill passed first. But I fear that the legislature will change the most important parts of the bill. The only way a bill can not be changed by the legislature is if a ballot is passed for a constitutional amendment. The petition for SQ796 (for medical marijuana) and SQ797 (for recreational marijuana) will be constitutional amendments that can not be changed without a vote of the people. The constitutional amendments require about 125000 signatures of registered voters. Green the Vote has the petitions and is collecting signatures RIGHT NOW. If everyone helps by signing and helping to circulate the petitions, we could have the ballots up for a vote of the people in November. This appears to be the only way to stop the senators and congressmen from changing parts of the ballot. Ladies and gentlemen, Please google Green the Vote, find the location of the petition and go sign it and get all of your friends to also. Help Green the Vote get enough signatures so that the constitutional amendments can be put on the ballot in November of 2018. Green the Vote can do it with your help. Thank you from a disabled veteran. God bless you and sign the petition!! George Washington Perci.

  22. I was born in Oklahoma and have lived here for almost 70 years. Its time for us to stick together and insist that our elected officials follow the expressed intent of 788, and indeed for us to resist any subsequent legislative modification. I can assure you that they will try to restrict and modify 788 to include any number of burdensome, costly, and just plain stupid regulations. Just as mr. county commissioner on steroids, Scott Pruitt, tried to rename 788 so to will his ilk that passes for our elected officials try to modify the peoples will into something else. If you fellow okies are tired of being treated like needy children its time to speak up. remember the results the teachers got.

  23. Food for thought: Opiod narcotic ‘pain management’ drugs have a massive laundry list of debilitating side effects including ORGAN FAILURE and DEATH. Cannabis side effects, on the other hand, largely consist of increased appetite and happiness. Which would the esteemed legislature prefer their families and children injest?

  24. makes sense to me. doctors have no problems getting people hooked on pills for pain. they don’t care if that individual later goes to prison for a problem they created. must own stock in the prison systems too. pass the damn bill and like the bedroom stay out!

  25. I have smoked Cannabis for around 20 years now. I am still alive! I am not dangerous or addicted to any harmful subscription. My blood pressure is almost perfect. If 788 is not passed rest assured you nay sayers and herded SHEEPLE will not stop me from smoking. We smoker and tokers will stand by you calmly at you local store whatever it may be. You may never know we are high but we will be watching and laughing our bellies off in our heads on how ignorant and heartless you truly are. I smoke weed and i believe in a better tomorrow!

  26. Leave 788 alone. The people have spoken loud and clear. The majority of Oklahomans approved the language in the question. Represent the people and their will. Do not change this to ”tighten it up”. It’s over. Let the people free. Represent don’t repress.

  27. Absolutely disgusting how you continue to ignore the will of the people to line your pockets with more money from the for-profit prison system, the pharmaceutical industry and for your own misguided religious beliefs; perhaps you need to be reminded that you are elected officials? Reminded that you were elected specifically to represent the people and their wills? We know damn well what we voted for. Go ahead, ignore the will of the people. You will be replaced faster than you can say your own names.

    We, the people of Oklahoma, voted 788 in AS IS. Leave it be or face the consequences.

  28. So I guess all these republicans want to end up seeing Oklahoma become a blue state? That’s what’s going to end up happening if they continue to marginalize the intelligence of their voter base in favor of pursuing their own special interests.

  29. State question 788 needs to stand as is. The people have spoken. I myself am a naturalist and use natural medicines only. I have been suffering from lower extremity pain for about 24 years I am a recovering addict I will not take Pharmaceuticals no matter how bad the pain is I would like relief of this pain this SB 1120 would keep me from being able to have relief. If SB 1120 goes through it will not be a good thing for the GOP you really want to see this state turn from red to blue and those of us that are being restricted from access that really do need this if this is passed will wind up having to move to another state I like it in Oklahoma you guys don’t tread on what the voters have voted on this doctor that actually put forward this question does not care about helping people he only cares about helping his buddies in the pharmaceutical industry the opioids are our worst problem in this state and medical marijuana can solve that problem with no side effects listen to the people.

  30. Let 788 stand do not add anything to this bill if they do let the people vote on whatever add to the bill marijuana better than pills and those deadly side effect!!!

  31. This is the politicians deciding what is best for us because we are too stupid to make our own decisions! It’s the nanny state that’s usually seen in democratic states. Not in republican states. Elections coming in November and we will remember the lawmakers that stand in the way and vote them OUT!

  32. Legislators and regulators will be heavily scrutinized and opposed if they try to change to SQ788 as we voted. We don’t need you to “protect” nor did we elect you to do so. If you don’t know the facts then you need to abstain. Quit making so called rules that directly oppose the intent and meaning of what we voted overwhelming for. Shame, shame shame.

  33. Guarantee money and bias are behind these restrictive rules that appear to directly oppose the will of the people as voted in sq788. We are watching. Stop it.

  34. I have taking morphine sulfate for the last 18 plus years and I have been off of them since January 1st 2018. The government put me on morphine and continue to increase it until I started to decrease it myself then they started telling me how I couldn’t take it anymore and that they were going to take me off of it. So I Wing myself off and now I no longer take morphine why is it that all the pharmaceutical companies and the makers of morphine have lied about the addictive nature of opiates and so many people have died and now people that are involved in pharmacies and medical companies are now trying to make the laws, what’s wrong with this? Is it truly that the government does not care about the people, does the government (rather it be state or federal) allow all of these people to die from opiates and then have the gall to say that marijuana is bad. These pharmaceutical companies allowed people to be addicted to these drugs but they are all opposed to medical marijuana just how many people have actually died from opiates as opposed to how many people have actually died from smoking marijuana? I can’t tell you how many doctors have told me “the man that died would have lived had he have not smoked a joint”! I can’t tell you because no one has died from just smoking a joint! You want to make laws for drinking and driving fine make laws for smoking and driving the same laws but don’t tell the people that their vote does not matter when that is what our country is based on! We should all hold a March for our rights because this is about our right now not about marijuana. They have sentence people and sentence people and sentence people for doing the wrong thing rather it be smoking marijuana, possessing marijuana, selling marijuana, robbing a bank, murder and so on. Robbing a bank in Murder definitely need heavy fines and imprisonment but they have done the same thing with marijuana users now the people that are supposed to be protecting us are now doing the wrong thing and none of them are seeing any jail time if I walked out of my house and had a joint in my hand thay would take me right to jail I think all those that made up all these stupid suggestions should go directly to jail and then they can be accountable for their decisions! This is not what I voted for!

  35. Karma bit Yen right in the keister when he lost in the primary that was held on the day of the 788 election. That scared other legislators who quickly jumped to defend 788 after it was passed and the Health Department tried to gut it. Now it’s the end of 2018 and we have the best purely medicinal marijuana program in the country. Be vigilant. There’s nothing stopping them from trying again. We stood up to them several times and we may need to stand up to them again.

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