By Chelsea Marlett-Kennedy
State Question 788, allowing for medical marijuana, will be on the June 26 ballot. It is the result of three grassroots campaigns in the past decade to get this matter voted on by the people of Oklahoma. The legislature has the option to pass enacting legislation to further shape and facilitate the resulting law.
This speech was given at a meeting of Our Revolution Oklahoma in Oklahoma City on March 6, 2018.
At a time when the people of Oklahoma are set to vote on using the proven medicine found in Cannabis, and at a time when polling suggests that nearly 70% of all Oklahomans support SQ 788, along comes Republican Senator Erwin Yen (SD40) with a bill (SB1120) that he touts as the only medical cannabis bill in the state. Senator Yen’s bill is the worst form of snake oil, masquerading as compassionate care for those we know who suffer immensely and want to avoid the use of or addiction to opiate based medication.
Sen. Yen, an anesthesiologist, presents us with disaster, not relief. He uses his membership in the American Medical Association to claim that he and he alone has the expertise to know what patients need. What he claims patients need is a bill so restrictive that few, if any, will be able to use medical cannabis. He restricts the qualifying conditions to exclude many illnesses that result in chronic pain.
He doesn’t believe that our brave veterans who risked their lives in combat and now suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of their service deserve any relief but opiate- or diazepam-based medications. Despite what is documented as the worst opiate crisis in American history, Sen. Yen insists that those suffering from chronic pain MUST prove that they have tried all available opiates before being allowed to use cannabis.
This type of restrictive, intrusive legislation is an insult to patients who have suffered too long. This is absolutely unacceptable to those of us who have fought long and hard for the rights of patients and their families.
On another front, State Representative JP Jordan has introduced medical cannabis legislation that promises to be less restrictive. It provides for feedback through the creation of The Oklahoma Cannabis Commission made up of citizens and health care professionals. Most important, it allows for a broad list of medical conditions that allow patients to receive medical cannabis. In comparison to Sen. Yen’s draconian legislation, House Bill 3468 is a breath of fresh air.
At a time when the people spoke overwhelmingly through the initiative petition process and appear on the verge of passing revolutionary legislation to help address the opiate crisis, along come a lawmaker who belongs to a party touting smaller government and fewer regulations. Sen. Yen’s legislation violates the very principles his party stands for.
Rather than keeping the bill under the umbrella of health-related agencies, Sen. Yen prefers making it a law and order issue, a throwback to the tired old war-on-drugs, reefer-madness mentality that we had hoped was beginning to fade away. Rep. JP Jordan steers toward the saner path of sensible regulations of a much needed treatment option.
No one in our community is opposed to sensible regulations and oversight by qualified professionals. We recognize that there is a potential for some people to use something good to break the law for their own selfish purposes. Most importantly we recognize that insanity is defined as doing the same tired old things over and over while expecting different outcomes. Senator Yen proposes doing the same tired old nonsense that failed to work the first time. His legislation meets the definition of insanity.
So, what we need at this point is for lawmakers to help us, not hinder us in our efforts, to aid us in healing and seeing to it that our patients are spared the addiction and side effects of opiate-based medications, not arrested and sent off to private prisons. We need compassion, not over regulation.
We need sane, balanced compassionate legislation that leans heavily on medicine and sparingly on law enforcement to address the few bad apples that harm us all.
We need that. We need that now. It is our earnest desire to see our patients receive treatment that eases their suffering while reducing the incidence of addiction and fatal opiate overdoses that now kill more people per year than automobile accidents.
We implore our lawmakers to be compassionate. Please call your senators and ask that they vote no on Senator Yen’s Senate Bill 1120.
Chelsea Marlett-Kennedy is a long-time activist on this issue, having worked on all three initiative campaigns.