The Weekly Wonk: Medical cannabis & SQ 788, immigration rhetoric v. facts, and the ongoing battle to reduce incarceration

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

In this week’s episode of the OK PolicyCast, Director of Strategy and Communications Gene Perry sat down with Elizabeth Nichols to talk about medical cannabis and State Question 788. Nichols is an attorney who has worked extensively with the emerging cannabis industry in Oklahoma and nearby states. Criminal Justice Policy Analyst Ryan Gentzler cut through the noise on immigration rhetoric and urged us to consider the facts regarding undocumented Oklahomans.

In his Capitol Update, Steve Lewis spoke about Oklahoma’s ongoing battle to reduce incarceration and increase justice, particularly now that a new report shows Oklahoma is number one for incarcerating its citizens. In his Journal Record column, Executive Director David Blatt discussed the increasing suicide rates and the need to fund critical suicide prevention programs, like those administered by Oklahoma’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Upcoming Opportunities

June 20 absentee ballot deadline: There are only a few days left to request an absentee ballot in time for the June 26 state and county primary elections. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is June 20, 2018 at 5 pm. For more details and resources, visit our Oklahoma 2018 State Questions and Elections page.

Weekly What’s That

Medicaid Waivers

Waivers are way for states to test and implement new ways of administering Medicaid or CHIP services. If states want to change aspects of their Medicaid program beyond what is typically allowed, they have to get approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), a federal agency within the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Although CMS is fairly flexible in what it will allow for waivers, certain elements are non-negotiable: among others, the plan implemented under the waiver can’t cost more than care without the waiver; and certain groups (infants and children, individuals with disabilities) at certain income levels must be covered [OKPolicy].

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“At best, to me, this is sloppy. And at worst, it’s intentionally misleading. It’s deceptive.”

-Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas L. Combs, speaking about errors in the petition being circulated to repeal the tax increases passed to fund a teacher raise in Oklahoma [NewsOK].

Editorial of the Week

Oklahoman Editorial Board: No Standing Still on Criminal Justice Reform

Steps have been taken in recent years, including bills approved this session — after being hung up for a year — that will help slow the growth of the inmate population. Among other things, the bills ease sentencing mandates on repeat drug offenders, end mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug-related and burglary offenses, and make it easier for someone with a criminal history to have his record expunged.

The Legislature also approved a $116.5 million bond issue for prison repairs and maintenance so that, as Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh put it, they’ll be able to “close doors and keep them closed without using zip ties.”

This effort cannot end here. Whether it’s tweaking SQ 780 or pursuing a much heavier lift such as sentencing reform, Oklahoma cannot afford to stand idle on this issue. It’s certain not to be easy, but it must be done [NewsOK].

Numbers of the Day

  • 1,079 – Number of people held in prisons and jails in Oklahoma per 100,000 residents, the highest incarceration rate in the world.
  • 77% – Cohort graduation rate of black high school students in Oklahoma, 2015-2016, which was 6 points below the rate for white high school students (83%).
  • 10.7% – Percent of babies born preterm in Oklahoma in 2016 (10th highest in the nation).
  • 53.1% – Percentage of Oklahomans who have employer-provided health insurance
  • 934.9% – How much Oklahoma’s wind power generation increased from 2008 to 2017, going from 2,358 GWh to 24,404 GWh.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Income inequality is changing how we think, live, and die [Vox].
  • Everyone is missing a key reason the u.S. Birth rate is declining [HuffPost].
  • Non-expansion states can’t fix “catch-22” in their proposals to take medicaid coverage away from parents not meeting work requirements [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].
  • The largest health disparity we don’t talk about [New York Times].
  • The $580 co-pay [The Marshall Project].


Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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