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Medical Marijuana, Industrial Hemp, and Oklahoma

There are numerous positions on the policy spectrum when it comes to marijuana in Oklahoma. In between an outright ban (which we have now) and full decriminalization (full use at any time, for any reason, anywhere) sits a potential and much needed middle ground. This middle ground is composed of two parts: the medical use of marijuana, and the industrial use of hemp. Both should be legislatively (and immediately) addressed and embraced by the Republican Party.

Medical uses of marijuana, also referred to as cannabis, are widely known. The American Cancer Society has a relatively impartial explanation of the uses of this drug in relation to cancer. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society also has some information about treatments, side effects, and testing. Perhaps the most compelling use of marijuana is in relation to Dravet’s Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that begins in infancy. For more information, an excellent hour long documentary about this subject is “Weed: Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports”, from CNN. These are just three of the potential treatments and/or cures currently being done with marijuana – for a more comprehensive list try

We currently regulate many drugs for many uses, and also conduct significant research of a medical nature. The economic impact of medical uses of marijuana goes far beyond the Doctor, the Pharmacist, the Patient, and the insurance facets. The Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma does cancer research and trials. The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation has a world class research facility for MS. These are just two of the facilities in Oklahoma City, which any legislator can visit on their lunch break – they are that close to the Capitol. If they wish to research this drug at either facility, the State of Oklahoma should not be a barrier to a cure.

Like many people, I have friends and family impacted by some of these diseases. My cousin has cancer right now – and if marijuana will help her in any way, I want her to have access to it. I have several friends with multiple sclerosis, and if it will help them they should also have access. The State should not prohibit useful treatments because a drug can be misused (and “misused” is subject to much debate). It is undeniable that there are medical uses for this plant. What is in question is the right of the State to restrict what a Doctor may prescribe as a treatment or cure for a patient, and also if the State should interfere with research into potential cures and treatments based on a plant.

Industrial hemp and marijuana are very different, but frequently tied together. “Marijuana” for purposes of this article is the Cannabis Sativa plant with high levels of THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and low levels of CBD (cannabidiol). This is generally used for recreational and medical use (and is the kind that can get you “high”) “Hemp” is the Cannabis Sativa plant with low levels of THC and high levels of CBD. This is grown for seed and fiber. It can also be used for medical purposes, but not as an intoxicant. Among the uses for industrial hemp are as a food, in textiles, as a plastic replacement, and as a fuel.

By grouping the marijuana and hemp together in a ban, we have robbed our agricultural industries of a valuable crop that is ideally suited to Oklahoma. The uses of hemp are many. We should exploit this plant, and develop its potential. It is a valuable crop that should not be banned by the State for the mistaken idea that it is an intoxicating drug.

There is no moral or religious ground to ban the use of marijuana for medical reasons, any more than pain killers, anti-depressants or anti-psychotics should be banned. There are numerous reasons to change the law – ethical, medical, moral, and financial. There are also political reasons to lift this ban. The public – overwhelmingly – thinks this ban should end. While the debate over the recreational use of marijuana is highly divided, that is another subject.

Hemp has no business being included in any debate about medical marijuana or recreational marijuana laws, since it is not an intoxicant. As such, the legislature should define what constitutes hemp from a legal perspective and exempt it from any Oklahoma prohibitions – and get out of the way of farmers and agribusiness, as they go about building a new industry in our state.

There are two bills currently under consideration by the Oklahoma Legislature, Senate Bill 2116 and Senate Bill 902. BOTH of these bills should be heard in Committee, and voted on. They should be amended to come to a reasonable solution to enable the medical use of marijuana. Other legislation should be created to address hemp.

Finally, this article is not about the recreational use of marijuana. It is about the medical use of it and the industrial use of hemp. BOTH are things that the legislature and the Republican Party should immediately pass. It is likely that Oklahoma would, if it were put to a state vote, decline to enact full decriminalization of marijuana at this time (such as Colorado has recently done). That subject will be addressed in a future – separate – article.

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