Marijuana bill unlikely to win over legislators

20 February 2017
Raven Fawcett, Student Writer

Despite one legislator’s efforts to put legalization on the agenda as a bill, medical marijuana has a better chance to pass as a State Question.

State Representative Eric Proctor proposed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma’s legislative session this year. House Bill 1877 was modeled on a 2016 bill that passed in Arkansas that allows people who suffer from a list of illnesses to use marijuana legally. Proctor’s argument for proposing a bill instead of trying to put medical marijuana legalization on a ballot is that bills are the shortest route to legalizing weed. A state question could take upwards of a year longer than a bill.

But with a state Senate of six Democrats and 42 Republicans, and a state House of Representatives with 26 Democrats, 74 Republicans and one vacancy, it’s not clear that a bill is the fastest way to go about making medical marijuana a reality in Oklahoma. Can medical marijuana be a feasible outcome with a majority of Republican legislators? It seems unlikely that the bill will make it past committee hearings, much less successfully make its way through both chambers of Congress. Elected officials need to create legislation to vote on, but HB 1877 is probably not the bill that vaults Proctor to in-state fame or legalizes weed for the chronically ill in Oklahoma.

As HB 1877 is deferred through committee in the State House of Representatives, State Question 788 is slowly making its way through bureaucratic red tape. SQ 788 would also legalize marijuana if it is approved by a vote put to Oklahoma residents. Both raise revenue for the state, although they go to different accounts. However, there are fewer restrictions on who can get a prescription. Proctor’s bill outlines a set of acceptable medical conditions that would allow people to get a prescription for marijuana. The State Question would only require a patient to be above 18 years old and have a prescription from a doctor.

Between a bill and a state question, Oklahomans have to ask themselves which form they would prefer — something voted on by legislators with more restrictions written into law, or something approved of (or disapproved of) by the state at large with fewer restrictions. Ultimately, the point is that a State Question takes a long time because it is quietly channeled through different levels of government. While that might take a while, a State Question might be more likely to succeed. Republicans are typically against legalizing marijuana in any form, and Democrats have to be careful to not seem too far left when signing on to bills like this one. Politically speaking, this is a difficult bill to pass.

There is a Republican majority at present, which implies that the majority of voters are also Republican. However, people often feel differently than their elected officials. The extra time before the vote gives people a chance to change their minds, gather information, or the social attitude towards marijuana to soften. The people behind the bill can also campaign more effectively for public approval with extra time in a way that politicians, who have several different factors to consider when they vote on a bill that has little to do with what their constituents want, cannot. Proctor has a limited time to get his bill approved by both chambers of Congress when there are so many more bills to be looked over and decided on. A State Question is not a surefire win, but it does stand a better chance of winning than a bill that could be dangerous for either party to vote on.

A possible approach to this issue is for any state legislators who are passionate about medical marijuana to throw their support behind SQ 788. People can call their local state representatives, particularly in the House of Representatives, where this bill is right now, and encourage their representatives to support HB 1877, or encourage them to encourage their constituents to vote in favor of SQ 788 when the question is up for a vote. State legislators have to be more available to their voting base than national representatives because their support group is smaller and feedback is that much closer. Call, email or tweet representatives on issues that are important to you. More often than not, local legislators are listening.