Story & Photo Illustration by JaNae Williams
When Oklahomans go to the polls June 26, State Question 788 will give voters the opportunity to decide whether Oklahoma will join the 29 states and District of Columbia, which currently allows their residents to use marijuana medically.
The legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use has been debated for years. First steps toward legalization in Oklahoma began with the passing of Katie’s Law in 2015, allowing for the use of Cannabidiol products in children with seizures. CBD products including oils, salves and edibles are manufactured from hemp rather than marijuana to limit the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive molecule found in high concentrations of marijuana.
In 2016, Gov. Mary Fallin signed an additional law into effect amending the state definition of marijuana so that CBD substances containing less than the three-tenths of one percent level for THC are not included. From there, the use of CBD products expanded to help those with other ailments.
SQ 788 intends to legalize the licensed use, sale and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, doctors and business owners all have their ideas about if and how legalization for medical use should occur in Oklahoma. Supporters of the ballot measure have already overcome one hurdle, winning a case in the Oklahoma Supreme Court regarding its wording. The ballot measure was challenged and rewritten by former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
“[Pruitt] went through under his powers as attorney general and tried to rewrite the ballot measure in a way that would frame the argument in a pretty negative light,” said Democratic Rep. Scott Inman.
Inman added that Pruitt, an opponent of both medical and recreational use, selected wording to help get the bill defeated and therefore made the measure seem as though it was legalizing the use of marijuana for everything. In March 2017, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled against Pruitt’s rewritten version of the ballot measure.
Still some believe that SQ 788 in its current form does not provide for adequate regulation of the drug, or sets Oklahoma up for legalization in a way that is not solely medical.
“The reason [SQ 788] might have a negative effect is because even though it’s titled medical marijuana, if you read the state question, there’s portions of it that really cover recreational marijuana,” said Republican Rep. Roger Ford.
Ford thinks marijuana does have medical benefits and Oklahomans should be able to vote on a bill regarding medical or recreational marijuana, as long as they know exactly what that bill includes.
When it comes to medical legalization, opponents often point to what they deem as a lack of scientific research to back the assertions of the healing and restorative effects claimed by advocates. But those currently running Oklahoma’s legal cannabis dispensaries see things differently.
“Any doctor who says he doesn’t know enough to recommend this, then his higher education stopped when he crossed that stage and got his diploma,” said Hector Najar, who co-owns Herban Mother with his wife Mary.
Najar further explained there are simply too many peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals or available online for people to continue to deny the effects. The Najars became educated on some of the effects of cannabis during their time working with a medical marijuana dispensary in San Jose, California. They watched participants in a Stanford University clinical trial for cancer patients and knew they would someday start a dispensary in Oklahoma.
Herban Mother was founded from the desire for the Najars to improve their own health. From humble beginnings selling organic produce through their distribution company Herban Gardens, a turn toward natural medicine, including the extraction of essential oils, occurred. When the pair met Ryan Early, CEO of OKC-based Can-Tek Labs, the only FDA-licensed manufacturer of CBD in the state, a great partnership was formed.
“We were able to take the production that we did and, [through] letting Ryan and Can-Tek Labs ... become the mixologists and add the CBD, [make] it just an incredibly high quality, strong anti-inflammatory [and] pain reducer,” said Mary Najar.
The Najars believe in their products and can recount story after story of lives changed through the use of CBD, including their own.
“Look what I can do,” said Najar, while turning his head and body quickly from side to side. “I couldn’t do this in October. I was a cripple.”
Prior to his use of CBD, Najar found himself unable to function normally in daily life because of his chronic neck and back pain. Even the simplest of tasks were painful or even dangerous. He needed help to dress and was unable to turn his head from side to side when driving. Bending over sometimes meant his wife finding him on the floor, too overcome with pain to move.
“I’ve been to the point to where I wanted to commit suicide, I hurt so bad,” Najar said as he and his wife fought back tears at the memory.
Doctors had given him a prescription of pharmaceuticals and surgery to manage his pain for the rest of his life. Now Najar speaks joyfully of the day he walked into the orthopedic surgeon’s office able to turn down medication and say, “I don’t need you.”
While some lawmakers feel that SQ 788’s current wording is masking some of its true intent, others believe this historical bill has the potential for a number of positive impacts on the state.
“We’ve not had a legalization question for marijuana make it on a statewide ballot in state history,” Inman said. “Once medicinal use is legalized here, that it will sort of destigmatize the use of marijuana.”
Inman thinks much of the negative backlash others may perceive will be minimal pointing to the success seen, in multiple areas, by other states who have legalized the drug. Colorado, where marijuana use is legal both medically and recreationally, boasted a tax revenue of $198.5 million in 2016. If it were possible to sustain them, revenue numbers like this could have the potential to eliminate Oklahoma’s budget shortfalls.
Inman also pointed out the broader benefits in terms of healthcare, specifically for citizens with chronic neurological diseases. Inman’s father suffers from Parkinson’s disease, one of many neurological disorders for which medical marijuana is studied as a treatment.
“[Legalization] might have a long-term benefit to those folks who are suffering with diseases that could benefit from it, and then obviously the ancillary benefit of their family members who care for those people,” Inman said.
The debate will continue until voters take to the polls in June. For both Inman and the Najars, the hope is that voters will take the time to educate themselves on the matter.
“If people would realize it’s very, very safe, CBD, and be open to it. It won’t kill you. Tylenol, Ibuprofen can kill you this could change the world,” said Mary Najar, “It could absolutely change the world.”
To read SQ788 in full, visit the link.
Click here for more information on voting and voter registration.
The 15th Street News is a student publication at Rose State College.