By Conrad Dudderar
Buoyed by voter support, a Yukon state representative says legislators continue efforts to “tighten” Oklahoma’s marijuana laws.
The state has been known in some circles as the “wild west of marijuana” since Oklahoma voters legalized medical marijuana almost five years ago, according to District 60 State Rep. Rhonda Baker, R-Yukon.
“I would still say that’s where we’re at,” Rep. Baker said during the April 4th Yukon Legislative Breakfast at Olde Orchard Restaurant, 326 Elm.
“We have deactivated over 800 illegal marijuana farms, which is great. It is a start. We have seized over 600,000 pounds of illegal marijuana. So, that’s the problem – the black market.”
In a March 7th special election, some 61.7% of Oklahoma voters rejected a proposal that would have legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults ages 21 and older.
State Question 820 was defeated by a 61.7% majority (349,284-217,078). In Canadian County, the measure was opposed by 64% of 23,190 voters casting ballots.
“Recreational marijuana failed – it should have,” Rep. Baker told the audience during Tuesday’s Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
“Everybody recognizes that even though we have what is called ‘medical marijuana’, that state question (788) was so loosely written.”
Oklahoma legislators have had to go through and pass bills as quickly as they could “to try and bring this back into check”, the four-term state lawmaker added.
The State of Oklahoma legalized medical cannabis in June 2018 when voters passed S.Q. 788 with 57% of the vote.
Patients with a state-issued medical marijuana license are legally able to possess, purchase, cultivate, and consume marijuana products.
The State of Oklahoma now has 2,877 dispensaries.
“In other states that have a higher population, there might be 100 dispensaries,” Rep. Baker said. “So, we still have a long way to go to bring that into check.”
First-year District 18 State Sen. Jack Stewart (R-Yukon) talked at Tuesday’s breakfast about new legislation introduced this legislative session aimed at medical marijuana reform.
“A lot of it focused on stopping illegal businesses,” he explained.
A former three-term county commissioner, Sen. Stewart said Canadian County has “a lot” of registered medical marijuana grow operations.
“It gets into other issues, (such as) the amount of groundwater they’re using,” Stewart added.
S.Q. 820 was opposed by Gov. Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association, Oklahoma District Attorneys Association, Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, State Chamber of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, and Oklahoma Faith Leaders.
The recreational marijuana proposal was supported by criminal justice reform advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.), Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1000, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Legal recreational marijuana has been approved in 21 U.S. states (plus the District of Oklahoma), according to U.S. News and World Report. Oklahoma is among 37 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
‘A TRUE CHALLENGE’
Oklahoma School Superintendent Ryan Walters has “no relationship” with the state Legislature, Rep. Baker told Yukon Legislative Breakfast attendees.
A former schoolteacher, Baker chairs the state House Common Education Committee.
Walters has been invited to present to the committee his findings about what he deems are offensive and pornographic books in Oklahoma schools – and to answer members’ questions.
But so far, he’s refused to appear before the committee and have a conversation.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric around books,” Baker told Yukon Legislative Breakfast attendees. “If (inappropriate) books are out there, we do know that needs to be looked into.
“Locally, those issues should be addressed by the school board, by the superintendent, by the principal, (and) by the librarians if that’s something the community has an issue with. Our superintendent (Walters) now is making rules that are law that only the Legislature can do. … It has been a true challenge.”
Among other topics, Rep. Baker discussed efforts to further strengthen election laws.
“Oklahoma has one of the strongest election laws on the books,” she noted. “We are tightening it up – but we still are very good.
“We are one of only three states that mandate that absentee ballots be notarized.”
Meanwhile, first-year Sen. Stewart shared with the Yukon Legislative Breakfast audience some key legislation this session at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
Vice chair of the Senate General Government Committee, Stewart was asked to be the Senate author on six House bills. One of those won’t even be heard in committee.
“There’s so many different places that these bills can ‘drop out’,” said Stewart, a former three-term county commissioner. “There’s little ‘trap doors’ on them everywhere.”
Bills must pass through House and Senate committees, then been approved on both the full House and Senate, before being signed into law by the governor.
Many of the thousands of bills introduced each legislative session are “repealers” aimed at eliminating outdated laws or extending sunset provisions on nearly expired laws, Stewart noted.
Among legislation that has advanced are Senate and House bills to significantly increase funding for public and private education, and provide teacher raises.
“The bottom line is, schools are going to get a lot more money this year,” Sen. Stewart said. “We’re trying to use the extra, surplus money we’ve got this year to the best advantage. A whole lot of it is going to education.”
Other bills propose providing six weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers who are state employees and allowing new mothers to park in handicapped parking spaces.
Stewart discussed plans to expand workforce development programs at Oklahoma career technology centers to help recruit new industry to the state.
The new state senator did vote “no” on one bill that passed the State Senate to require back-seat passengers 16 years and under to wear seatbelts.
“My opinion is that it’s government overreach,” Stewart said. “If a driver wants to allow a kid under 16 in the back seat without a seatbelt, I think that ought to be their business – even though I think they’re crazy for doing it.”