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(From left) Mike Haines, president of Vote No OK 788, speaks with Ada Rotary Club member Pat Fountain and Oklahomans for Health chairman Chip Paul Tuesday night at East Central University. Haines and Paul presented their views on State Question 788, which would legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

A measure legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma would give doctors another option for treating patients, according to a statewide group that supports the measure.

But another group that opposes State Question 788 contends that the measure does not go far enough in regulating medical marijuana and could lead to abuse of the drug.

The two sides squared off during an informational forum Tuesday night at East Central University. The event, sponsored by the Ada Rotary Club and the Pontotoc County Drug Free Coalition, aimed to educate voters about SQ 788 before they go to the polls June 26.

An overview of

State Question 788

If it becomes law, State Question 788 would legalize marijuana — also known as cannabis — for medical purposes. The initiative would require Oklahomans 18 and older who want a state-issued medical marijuana license to obtain a signature from a board-certified physician.

People under the age of 18 would need to obtain signatures from two certified physicians and his or her parent or guardian.

There would be no specific qualifying conditions to receive medical marijuana, and license-holders would be allowed to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana on their person and 8 ounces in their home. The law would also allow license holders to possess:

• Up to six mature and six seedling marijuana plants.

* Up to to one ounce of concentrated marijuana.

* Up to 72 ounces of edible marijuana.

Local governments could approve guidelines allowing recipients to exceed the state-mandated limits. Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana without a license, but with a medical condition, would be a misdemeanor.

The state would impose a 7 percent tax on marijuana sales, and the proceeds would be earmarked for administrative costs, education and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

People who want to operate dispensaries, commercial growing operations or processing operations would have to get a permit. Cities and counties would be barred from restricting zoning laws to prevent marijuana dispensaries, but dispensaries could not be located within 1,000 feet of a school.

SQ 788 would also create an office within the Oklahoma State Department of Health to review applications and issue licenses, which would cost $100 apiece and last for two years. Recipients of Medicaid, Medicare or Soonercare would pay only $20 for a license.

The initiative would bar employers, landlords and schools from penalizing people for holding a medical marijuana license unless failing to punish them causes loss of benefits under federal law. Employers would be allowed to penalize license holders who possess or use marijuana at work.

Pros and cons

Other states that allow medical marijuana have drawn up lists of specific health problems that qualify for treatment with the drug, said Oklahomans for Health chairman Chip Paul, whose organization wrote SQ 788 and got it on the June 26 ballot. But he said the people who drafted the initiative took a different path by relying on physicians’ expertise.

“If you look at the law and the way that that’s written, a physician will prescribe this in a reasonable way, just like he would any other medicine,” Paul said. “So all we’re doing is, we’re giving a physician another tool in his tool kit. That’s what the intent of the law is.”

Paul said the limits on possessing medical marijuana may seem excessive, but they are dictated by a patients’ needs.

“If you’re being treated for cancer, a cancer patient will consume about a gram of (cannabis) oil a day,” he said. “That is a lot. That is about the equivalent of about a quarter-ounce of marijuana a day. You have to have a lot.

“So when we did those limits, we actually were looking at what would a cancer patient have to hold for 30 days. And that’s about what they would have to hold for 30 days.”

Paul also said SQ 788 would allow license-holders to grow their own medicine instead of relying on pharmaceutical companies.

Another view of SQ 788 came from Mike Haines, president of the political action committee Vote No OK 788. Haines said he does not oppose the use of medical marijuana, but he thinks SQ 788 is seriously flawed — in part because it lets doctors who prescribe the drug off the hook.

Haines said SQ 788 fails to regulate medical marijuana and does not give lawmakers time to draw up rules governing its use.

“All the timetables (for legalization) start immediately,” he said. “Everybody starts wheeling into place. There’s no way you can get regulations in place fast enough to make a difference.”

Haines also complained that the initiative failed to define key terms, which would allow the marijuana industry to dictate what constitutes acceptable levels of potency in edible or condensed forms of the drug.

“If you can put it in your mouth — if it has a flavor — it’s an edible, without regard to potency,” he said. “Any product labeled ‘edible’ will be called edible. So the industry continues to grow, these products get higher and higher potency with a multitude of delivery systems.”

Haines said extremely potent marijuana products increase the risk of dependence, have a greater impact on patients’ minds and could endanger children’s lives.

Eric Swanson can be contacted by email at eswanson@theadanews.com.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.