Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series summarizing last Thursday’s State Question 788 forum.
Following the Candidate Forum hosted by the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce and the Ardmore Young Professionals Thursday evening, representatives both for and against the passage of State Question 788 for Medical Marijuana were given the stage at the Goddard Center.
Kaben Smallwood from New Health Life Solutions and Mike Jackson, Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president of government and political affairs, went head to head to discuss the question.
Jackson said while the proponents of the question have taken into account the experiences of other states that have enacted medicinal marijuana legislation, the time frame will be an issue. “There have been other states that have actually done [it in a similar time frame],” Jackson said. Many changes have had to be made, Jackson said, adding that the question addresses protections for employees who hold a license. “The time frame is extremely difficult to accomplish, especially for an agency which is in disarray at this point.” Companies with employees who operate heavy equipment or drive a truck are the businesses the State Chamber is hearing from, Jackson said. “It’s not that they’re opposed to medical marijuana necessarily, but that they’re concerned that at the end of the day, they’re not able to make sure that you, people that are driving in a school bus, and those issues are addressed,” Jackson said.
Smallwood countered by differentiating between medicinal marijuana and recreational use. “Medicinal marijuana has to be prescribed by a Board Certified doctor in the State of Oklahoma,” Smallwood said. “I don’t believe it is my position or the State Chamber’s to determine what the appropriate course of medical action is for a particular patient.” Smallwood said Oklahoma has a very high proportion of opioid overdoses and death. Marijuana, Smallwood said, is a substance that can be used to reduce those numbers. “Alcohol is legal,” Smallwood said. “There are no additional protections written into the law that say if a heavy machine operator comes to work drunk and hurts or injures somebody that that individual will not be removed and fired.” Smallwood said at the end of the day, there have been no overdoses on medicinal marijuana. “Please compare that to the statistics for opioids,” Smallwood said.
Jackson said he felt the 7 percent tax on medical marijuana is “very very low.” “Most of the money would go to the Health Department for implementation,” Jackson said. Smallwood countered his argument by pointing out that only 25 percent of the tax revenue is set aside for the regulation of sales and cultivation, with 75 percent being put into the general education fund. “If our legislature decides to then cut that by the amount of money going in, as they’ve done previously, that’s on them,” Smallwood said. With local and state taxes, Smallwood said, he’s projected approximately $6.3 million in tax revenue for the state if the measure passes and the industry performs as expected.
Jackson highlighted language in the State Question which he said gives employers pause — that which says employers may not discriminate against employees based on their status as a medical marijuana license holder. Smallwood said that the language in the measure clearly states that “an employer may not discriminate,” but the fact remains that the state is an at will employment state. “I don’t think employers should allow their personal bias to affect their bottom line,” Smallwood said. If someone shows up intoxicated on medical marijuana, the employer will have the ability to terminate that employee, despite the language in the measure.