Recent State Question referendums and petitions have enacted a turbulent period of marijuana legislation in Oklahoma.
Medical marijuana was recently legalized in Oklahoma, making it the 30th state to do so. After nearly a century of anti-cannabis legislation, the laws and governing bodies of Oklahoma had to revise and create new strategies to deal with the changes.
Colleges face similar challenges. While the drug is now legal elsewhere in the state, colleges and universities — including the University of Tulsa — that receive federal grants must comply with federal law to retain their funding, and those federal laws include the Drug Free Workplace Act and the Controlled Substances Act. Because marijuana is still federally classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, its use and possession are not permitted on campus or at events sponsored by TU.
Marijuana is comprised of 426 chemical compounds, categorized as psychoactive and nonpsychoactive. There are 60 psychoactive compounds, one of which is most commonly known as THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is one of the chemicals in marijuana that produces the high; effects include increased depression and anxiety, muscle relaxation, increased appetite and other common symptoms.
The history of cannabis in Oklahoma rivals its chemical components in complexity. Here, we examine the events that led to medical marijuana’s legalization:
August 2, 1937: The United States Congress approves of the Marijuana Tax Act. The act levies a heavy tax on any person who grows, imports, sells, gives away or otherwise profits from cannabis in any way. The fees are steep enough to effectively shut down the legal cannabis trade. Medicinal marijuana, used for over 5,000 years, is no longer a viable medication for U.S. citizens.
October 27, 1970: The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 repeals the Marijuana Tax Act and categorizes marijuana as a Schedule I drug, making it illegal to own, buy or sell the drug in the U.S.
May 30, 2014: The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment is passed by Congress, which bars the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute cannabis infractions if the actions are permitted under state law.
April 11, 2016: Oklahomans for Health files a petition for State Question 788 with the Oklahoma Secretary of State that, if approved, will allow Oklahomans to vote on legalizing medical marijuana. Petitions must be signed by enough people, verified by the government and approved by the governor before they appear on the ballot, where Oklahomans can vote on the issue.
January 4, 2018: Governor Fallin files a proclamation that enters SQ788 onto the primary election ballot, set for June 26, 2018.
April 3, 2018: A group called Green the Vote files two petitions with the Oklahoma Secretary of State; State Question 796 and 797. SQ796 would, if approved and voted in by Oklahomans, amend the Oklahoma Constitution to categorize marijuana as an herbal drug, which would allow people with a medical need to more easily access it. It would also provide more legal protections to those legally using marijuana for medical reasons.
SQ797 also calls for a constitutional amendment, this one to legalize recreational marijuana — the growth, sale and use of marijuana for any reason other than health — for people over 21 years of age. Other restrictions on marijuana usage would still apply, such as the law against driving while high. The amount a person could possess for recreational use would still remain low.
June 26, 2018: SQ788 is approved. The measure passed with 56.86 percent approval. It received 507,582 votes for and 385,176 votes against.
June 27, 2018: The first clinic for medical marijuana opens the morning following the approval of SQ788, although the laws surrounding medical marijuana remain unclear.
July 10, 2018: The State Health Board passes regulations for medical marijuana. The rules require a pharmacist be present at dispensaries and a ban on smokable marijuana, among other restrictions.
July 11, 2018: Gov. Fallin signs her approval of the State Health Board’s regulations.
July 13, 2018: The public expresses their concern that the restrictions stray too far from the original state question. Two lawsuits are filed: one against the state of Oklahoma, Gov. Fallin, the Oklahoma Department of Health and five individual members of the Oklahoma Department of Health. The second is filed against the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
July 15, 2018: Green the Vote leaders say they have just under 100,000 signatures on their petition for SQ796, which would categorize marijuana as an herbal drug. The petition requires 123,735 signatures.
July 18, 2018: Attorney General Mike Hunter sends a letter to the OSDH commissioner stating that the Board of Health has overstepped its authority on its medical marijuana regulations.
July 26, 2018: Application requirements and additional information are available to everyone who needs the information, from potential buyers to growers, caregivers and processors.
July 27, 2018: The revised emergency regulations for medical marijuana are posted for the public to see, although the Board is still working to revise them.
July 28, 2018: Green the Vote says they have over 130,000 signatures (the minimum is approximately 124,000 signatures to push for a vote) for their petition to add SQ797 to the ballot. SQ797, if approved, would legalize recreational marijuana.
August 1, 2018: The State Health Board passes new regulations for marijuana, which Gov. Fallin signs. Changes include no longer requiring a pharmacist be present at dispensaries, removing the stipulation that patients take a pregnancy test before getting their medical marijuana license, removing the ban on smokable marijuana and lowering the minimum age of dispensary workers from 21 to 18.
August 7, 2018: Green the Vote organizational leaders announce on Facebook that they do not have enough signatures to put legalizing recreational marijuana to a vote, admitting that they had lied about the number of signatures already received to increase awareness for the petition and get more signatures.
August 8, 2018: Signatures from the SQ796 and SQ797 petitions are submitted to the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office to be verified.
August 17, 2018: SQ796 officially receives 95,176 signatures, falling short of the minimum number required to put a change to Oklahoma’s constitution on the general ballot for November.
August 20, 2018: SQ797 falls more than 20,000 signatures short of the minimum needed to put the question of recreational marijuana on the ballot.
August 24, 2018: The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority releases applications for medical marijuana licenses. They are, at this time, only accepting online applications.
September 10, 2018: The Supreme Court of Oklahoma finalizes the end of SQ 796 and SQ797, ordering the affair closed.