How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws?

Photo by Chuck Coker

Next year, Oklahomans will vote on State Question 788, a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana. As of 2017, 29 states have approved measures legalizing the drug for medical purposes. We often think of legalization in binary terms — either medical marijuana is allowed, or it isn’t — but in practice, the systems put in place by those 29 states to regulate the drug vary greatly. Each state has many choices to make about how patients can be prescribed marijuana, how much they can have, and where they get it from. Some states choose permissive systems that lead to higher numbers of patients and dispensaries; other states restrict prescriptions to people with specified conditions and few or no dispensaries.

In contrast with the states that left the design of most of those regulations to state agencies, the language of SQ 788 is specific on many details. It would put in place laws that decide how a person applies for and receives a license to use medical marijuana; the quantities that a license holder can possess; the qualifications and licensing process for retailers, growers, processors, and transporters; and the tax rate and distribution of revenue from sales. When compared to other systems, SQ 788 would put in place a system that is on the permissive side, but well within the current spectrum of laws.

Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco reviewed the policies of each state that had passed comprehensive medical marijuana laws as of 2014 and assigned restrictiveness scores based on the ease of patient access; the quantity allowed to license holders; and the method of distribution. The overall restrictiveness scores are shown on the map below.

Here’s how Oklahoma’s medical marijuana system would compare to these states if SQ 788 passes:

Patient access

Under SQ 788, Oklahoma residents can apply to the Department of Health for a medical marijuana user license. Applicants would pay a fee of $100 ($25 for those on Medicare or SoonerCare), and applications would have to be approved by a board certified physician “according to the accepted standards a reasonable and prudent physician would follow when recommending or approving any medication.” Other than approval by a physician, SQ 788 would not require a diagnosis of a specific condition to prescribe medical marijuana.

Among the states that permit medical marijuana already, only California does not specify conditions that qualify a person for access to the drug. The rest limit access mostly to people with severe conditions like cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, and severe and chronic pain. Applicants in those states need to have their diagnosis certified by a physician in order to qualify for a license.

While specifying qualifying conditions is meant to limit access to those with relatively serious conditions, there is evidence that this is not always effective. In some states, doctors’ offices have sprung up that certify the applications of just about anyone. In Arizona, for example, six physicians wrote 61 percent of all medical marijuana certifications in the state, according to a 2013 study. Some states have countered this trend by requiring an established relationship between patient and physician for a period of time (for example, three months in New Hampshire and six months in Vermont).

Quantity

All states limit how much marijuana a person can possess at one time and in what form. The quantity of useable marijuana allowed by state regulations differs widely from 1 to 24 ounces. In addition, many states allow license holders to grow marijuana at home, limiting the number of plants from as few as 6 in Colorado, Alaska, and Maine to as many as 24 in Oregon.

SQ 788 would allow license holders to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana, 6 mature marijuana plants, and 6 seedling plants, as well as 1 ounce of concentrated marijuana and 72 ounces of edible marijuana. These amounts are toward the high end of the range but considerably less that what’s allowed in places like Washington state

Dispensaries

Although some states initially allowed only home-grown marijuana, most now allow retail dispensaries to sell the drug to license holders. In some states, the number of licenses for such businesses is strictly limited — Maine and Minnesota, for example, each allow only 8 dispensaries throughout their entire states, New Hampshire only 4. Other states, like California, leave most regulations to local governments. Some states prohibit dispensaries from operating within a certain distance from a school.

In this area as well, the proposal before Oklahomans next year will be on the permissive side, though not out of step with other states. Although it restricts dispensaries from opening within 1,000 feet of any school entrance (further than many other states with zoning provisions), it also prohibits local governments from changing their own zoning laws “to prevent the opening of a retail marijuana establishment” and places no limit on how many establishments would be allowed to operate.

Legislators could make changes after SQ 788’s passage

SQ 788 is by no means radical. It is on the permissive side of the medical marijuana regulation spectrum, but that shouldn’t be surprising given that the proposal was drafted by activists. Since it was approved as a statutory rather than constitutional measure, the Legislature would be able to amend the law with a simple majority vote. Lawmakers will hold an interim study on SQ 788 in October to clarify details of the proposal and hear from states that have already implemented medical marijuana.

While many Oklahoma legislators are likely skeptical of the idea of marijuana as medicine, they’re right to prepare for the possibility of SQ 788 passing. In a 2013 poll, over 70 percent of Oklahomans supported “allowing seriously ill patients to possess marijuana for medical purposes with a physician’s recommendation.” Recent national polls show 88 percent of all Americans in favor of medical marijuana and 60 percent in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, a trend of support that has been increasing over time.

States have experimented with loosening marijuana laws for over two decades, and the pace of liberalization has quickened in recent years. We’ll know next year if Oklahomans decide that we’re ready to try it for ourselves.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Gentzler joined OK Policy in January of 2016 as a policy 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.

15 thoughts on “How does SQ 788 compare to other states’ medical marijuana laws?

  1. I became perm Disabled in October of 2010 with Spinal Cord Issues. Man Made Narcotics have almost killed me more than once since then!! I hate taking them!! I now hate Pills of any kind. I have to live with Chronic Pain in my Spine 24/7. I should NOT have to pack up everything I own and move to another State like Colorado just to get Help for myself!! I do not ever want to “smoke” anything….but Myself and Others like me should have the Rights to at least try Medical Cannabis Products like Edibles and use them on a regular basis to keep us out of so much chronic pain. We should have the rights to try and live a descent life just like everyone else and not lay in bed all the time cause this is not living!!

  2. Became perm Disabled in October of 2010 with Spinal Cord Issues. Man Made Narcotics have almost killed me more than once since then!! I hate taking them!! I now hate Pills of any kind. I have to live with Chronic Pain in my Spine 24/7. I should NOT have to pack up everything I own and move to another State like Colorado just to get Help for myself!! I do not ever want to “smoke” anything….but Myself and Others like me should have the Rights to at least try Medical Cannabis Products like Edibles and use them on a regular basis to keep us out of so much chronic pain. We should have the rights to try and live a descent life just like everyone else and not lay in bed all the time cause this is not living!!!!

  3. There needs to be something in there protecting physicians from any sort of reprisal when they authorize medical marijuana licenses. My physician said he feared losing his license to practice medicine if he were to authorize it.

  4. Alan, the ballot question specifies that “No physician may be unduly stigmatized of harassed for signing a medical marijuana application,” though it’s not clear how that would be monitored or enforced.

  5. Question: How could a physician lose license prescribing cannabis when no one has ever overdosed from cannabis use? Physicians need to fear pharmaceutical companies, instead.

  6. The article just stated there will be a chance to amend things to the bill. Let’s not forget that alcohol and tobacco, plus pharmaceuticals are deadly. Plus let’s look at the $600million debt we have coming in 2018, which we’ve already dipped into with no real revenue coming into out state. It’s time for Oklahoma to grown tf up!

  7. SQ788 is by no means “Radical”? If by Radical you mean susceptible to change, volatile, or unstable? We should review the “Definition” of ‘Radical’. If repealing 50 years of prohibition isnt Rad as all hell, then why are we repealing 50 years of prohibition? Maybe in it’s very essence defines the term radical down to the syllable. Who da thunk it? It’s just a bill to send all the money to the Budget banksteRS that came up 30 million short this year. No wonder they want to legalize it so bad. To make back what they’ve already taken by taxing us for taking it. Is there anyone in the state with an IQ over 64??? Anyone? Maybe someone literate enough and or has the ability to interpret symbolism or AKA READ? I’m not getting any signals.

  8. @Alan: Most if not all Doctors within each state are issued their licenses through their own resident states under that particular states medical board by-laws not to be confused with federal medical guidelines.

    @Ryan Gentzler: You might want to read SQ788 again. It does specify which agencies will be responsible for monitoring (OKDHS) and enforcement (OKAGC/OKATF).

    @Peggy: It is known there are no cases of over-dosages, but similar to Alcohol there are concerns of dosage risks for children.

    @Tanner: The contextual verbiage is a complete thought not to be used as specific definition. “Radical” in this article is used as stark contrast. (Example; going from prohibition to recreational.)
    I will admit, taking a video of a tornado passing over your house probably is not a smart thing to do, however the shear fascination of natural destructive forces does appeal to humanity on a global scale. (Example: Several Viral videos of massive tsunami when it landed on Japan.)(Incidentally, Japanese IQ scores are much higher than the U.S.A.)
    There are plenty of us born/raised Oklahomans who do have a higher IQ than you.

  9. As a person who has been incarcerated because of marijuana I say vote Yes on sq788…I have social anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD,as well as spinal stenosis… marijuana is one medicine that ttreats all of the above very effectively…I was caught with half a gram and I am on probation for two years and I’m paying about 7000 in fines and fees simply for having the one thing that makes me feel better…????

  10. Josh, with the stipulations they have on 788, you would probably never get a medical card for marijuana.
    We have to have these stupid stipulations removed.

  11. I have long favored legalization of medical marijuana. However, this proposed law concerns me. I would much rather see a requirement for a doctor’s prescription than simply applying and paying a $100 license fee, with no real proof that the marijuana is medically needed. Also, the amount of marijuana allowed at one time to a license holder seems very high; 8 ounces in the residence is 1/2 pound, and that’s a lot of pot! A former college roommate of mine (long ago) bought a pound of pot to divide up and sell by the ounce, so I can picture how much a half-pound is. 8 ounces would provide a great number of smokes… maybe enough for a bunch of roommates or family members. This sounds more like a recreational license than a medical use license to me! Even though I have glaucoma, I am leery of supporting this measure.

  12. Oklahoma needs to move into this century. Cannabis is so much more safer than alcohol or opioids. If you can get people off these dangerous addictive drugs with cannabis I’m all for it. Plus the revenue we would get from cannabis should be directed more to schools. I will support 788.

  13. Is there a limit tation on how far away from a dispensary you have to live in order to grow at home like most States are 25 miles from the nearest dispensary

  14. Does a Medical marijuana license in Oklahoma mean our doctors can not also prescribe our monthly prescriptions for pain, anxiety, or COPD?

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