Pastor Danny Daniels poses for a photo inside his Better Life Community Church in Lindsay, Okla., Friday, June 15, 2018. Daniels is among a growing group of traditionally conservative Republican voters who have shifted their position in favor of medical marijuana and who could ensure passage on Tuesday of the first medical marijuana state question on a ballot this year. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma voters weigh 1st marijuana ballot question of 2018

June 26, 2018 - 3:41 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma primary voters were weighing Tuesday whether to approve one of the least-restrictive state laws allowing medical marijuana, the nation's first cannabis ballot question of the year.

State Question 788 , the result of an activist-led signature drive launched more than two years ago, would make it legal to grow, sell and use marijuana for medicinal purposes. The proposed law outlines no qualifying conditions, which would allow physicians to prescribe its use for a broad range of ailments — a fact that has sparked bitter opposition from law enforcement, business, faith and political leaders.

Under the proposed law, a two-year medical marijuana license would allow someone to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana, six mature plants and six seedlings, along with edibles and concentrated forms of the drug.

In Oklahoma City, Robert Pemberton, 58, said he supported the measure because he believed it's been beneficial in other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

"They've got excess money, and we need that, especially for our teachers," Pemberton said. "I think we need the revenue from it. I think we need the money. Our state's in trouble financially and I think it would really help."

A group called SQ 788 is Not Medical launched a late $500,000 media blitz that painted the proposal as a plan to legalize recreational use of the drug under the guise of medical care.

"This is a bad public health policy that does not resemble a legitimate medical treatment program," said Dr. Kevin Taubman, former president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and chairman of the opposition group.

Connie Givens, 67, said she voted against the measure because she believes it's written too broadly and could permit recreational use of the drug.

"I think it's not written right. I think it's just so people can get marijuana," said Givens, a Republican in Oklahoma City.

Although Oklahoma has a reputation for being a conservative state, attitudes have shifted sharply on marijuana in recent decades, especially among young people, said Bill Shapard, a pollster who has surveyed Oklahomans on the issue for more than five years.

"I've found almost half of all Republicans support it, so that's going to take an awful lot of money and an awful lot of organized opposition for this to lose on Election Day," Shapard said.

Oklahoma's tough-on-crime ideology also has come at a cost, with the state's skyrocketing prison population consuming a larger share of the state's limited funding. In 2016, voters approved a state question to make any drug possession crime a misdemeanor, despite opposition to that proposal from law enforcement and prosecutors.

Oklahoma's is the first marijuana question on a state ballot in 2018, with elections scheduled for later this year in Michigan and Utah. Voters in neighboring Arkansas legalized the drug for medical use in 2016.

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Associated Press writer Tim Talley contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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