New leaders, old issues focus of 57th legislature

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Yukon Progress, Yukon Review, OK Law Lady

By Rachel Bussett

We are about a week away from swearing-in day in Oklahoma.

A new governor will take the helm of the state. We elected a non-politician to the position. Everyone is watching closely to see if he will continue the policies of the past administration or if he will take a new turn with his leadership.

The new legislative term begins this week, as the first meeting of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature met on Jan. 8 to organize and the first day of session is Feb. 4. Lots of issues are up for consideration in this session but at the top of the list is fixing medical cannabis since the landslide yes vote in June.

The road to legalization in Oklahoma has been eventful. We are still far away from having all the answers. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form or another. Seminars that I have been to say that federal medical legalization is happening in this congressional term. All of this is great news if you’re a proponent of legalization but it doesn’t solve many of the problems that still exist.

Oklahoma’s law was drafted by activists, which means putting it into a workable form has been difficult and the regulatory board tasked with doing the job has actively resisted the job.

Lawsuits have been filed across the state to make cities, municipalities, and even the state government comply with what the people have voted on. We are still fighting the overly restrictive ordinances passed by the Yukon City Council, which we believe violate 788.

Nevertheless, the new governor, the new legislature and a new year bring in the possibility for a lot of new laws. This won’t be limited to marijuana, although I anticipate it will be a huge part of this legislative session. We’ve started tracking all the proposed legislation as this year we are more interested than ever in what is happening at the Capitol.

Oklahoma’s legislature, like Congress, is made up of two Houses – the House of Representative and the Senate. We have 101 Representatives serving two-year terms and 48 senators serving four-year terms. Our state legislature is confined by term limits as no one can serve more than 12 years. This prohibits individuals from becoming lifelong politicos who are out of touch with the people.

The Oklahoma Constitution sets out the process for running the legislature. The constitution requires that the legislature convene on the first Monday in February every odd numbered year and must adjourn by the last Friday in May. The legislature must convene at the Capitol according to the constitution but the governor has powers to convene it at another location for safety sake.

Additionally, a special session of the legislature may be called into being by either the governor or by two-thirds of the Senate and House each jointly call for the convening of the special session. When 788 passed the governor told everyone that a special session would be called to deal with the holes in the law. However, shortly after passage the governor withdrew her support for a special session and the legislature never got the support needed for a special session.

Nevertheless, legal medical cannabis got off to a great start in our state. Preliminary reports indicate that the state has made around 10 million dollars over the implementation of 788.

I’m a proponent of decriminalization because I have seen the healing properties of cannabis as a medicine. I also have seen the disproportionate impact on poor and minority communities over charges and incarceration for cannabis related crimes that I haven’t seen in similarly situated alcohol crimes.

I’m excited to see what the legislature will do to implement the will of the people with their vote as 2019 gives them a unique opportunity to show whether they stand with those that voted them into office or if their decisions to govern are made based on their own self interests.

If it’s the latter I expect to see more change in the next election cycle. If it’s the former then I expect there will be a lot of the status quo in Oklahoma politics. What do you think will happen with the Oklahoma Legislature in 2019?

Rachel Bussett is an Oklahoma City attorney. She can be reached at 405-605-8073.