One of the questions about Oklahoma leaders' hesitance to call a medical cannabis special session is the looming primary runoff election. Ten Republican ...and more »
Debate over medical cannabis special session could influence elections
by Dale Denwalt
Published: Sun, July 8, 2018 5:00 AM
(AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
One of the questions about Oklahoma leaders' hesitance to call a medical cannabis special session is the looming primary runoff election.
Ten Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have to face a second round of primary voting on Aug. 28. In eight of those House districts, State Question 788 won broad support in a majority of their precincts.
Because medical marijuana was so popular among voters, another special session that opens Oklahoma's law books for amendments could generate a tense political environment at the Capitol, and on the doorstep as candidates ask for votes. All language in State Question 788 can be amended by a simple bill.
It's possible that lawmakers could repeal the entire law or make changes that are substantial enough to halt the industry. That scenario is unlikely because Republican leaders have said they want to defer to voters' intent, but some lawmakers don't want to take that chance.
State Rep. Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa, faces challenger Kent Glesener in the runoff. Lawson was first elected in 2016, when voters approved two major criminal justice reform measures. He remembers the political backlash when some of his fellow lawmakers considered amending State Questions 780 and 781 just months after they were adopted.
"There's really not an appetite to undo the will of the people. I put myself in that category," Lawson said. "Voters definitely would feel like us going back in and making changes would be a slap in the face."
Lawson said he hasn't heard from leadership about why there won't be a special legislative session, but he doesn't think it's motivated by the upcoming runoff election.
There was also hesitation to implement medical marijuana rules before State Question 788 was voted into law. Bud Scott, director of the trade group representing the cannabis industry, said the decision to avoid a special session this time is political.
"The call to not do a special session is to try to keep everyone occupied. 'Let's keep this shiny object of these regulatory rules at the State Department of Health to occupy people so they don't pay attention to the longer game,'" said Scott, who represents New Health Solutions Oklahoma.
The group is pressuring lawmakers and the governor to convene a special session soon because without one, Scott said, the industry might not be able to operate within the state's current bureaucracy.
His fear is that lawmakers wait until regular session in February, long after the general election, and make sweeping changes to Oklahoma's new medical marijuana laws.
"It can come back and be completely throttled, and I would say that's the intention of quite a few people," he said.
Dale Denwalt has closely followed state policy and politics since his first internship as an Oklahoma Capitol reporter in 2006. He graduated from Northeastern State University in his hometown... Read more ›
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