2016 is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. Our rankings will be based mostly on the following:
- The legal status of recreational cannabis
- The legal status of medical cannabis
- The criminal penalties on the books for cannabis, and how those penalties are actually enforced in real life
- Pending and recent cannabis legislation
- Public opinion on cannabis
As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. This is our second in the series. South Dakota was last week, deemed the worst state for cannabis. This week’s state comes in a very close second.
Oklahoma’s Criminal Laws. Possession of marijuana in Oklahoma can mean jail time. Long jail time. The first offense can result in one year of incarceration and subsequent convictions can lead to two to ten years. Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-402 The sale or cultivation of marijuana carries a minimum two-year prison sentence, with the sentence increasing based on quantities. Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-401 (B) (2). There are also increased penalties for deriving products from marijuana, such as hashish. Converting or attempting to convert marijuana into hash or other concentrates is a felony that can result in a fine of up to $50,000 and minimum two-year prison sentence. Okla. Stat. tit. 63, § 2-509 (d). A second conviction results in a fine of up to $100,000 and a minimum four-year prison sentence. For all of the penalties mentioned in this paragraph, the maximum prison sentence is life. That’s right, in Oklahoma selling marijuana or creating marijuana products can result in a life sentence.
Last year, the Oklahoman reported that prior marijuana convictions can create life sentences for nonviolent drug offenders:
In 1996, Kevin Ott, then 33, was on parole for growing and possessing marijuana when Cleveland County authorities found 3.5 ounces of methamphetamine, a handgun, scales and empty baggies in his trailer.
Today, Ott is one of 48 people in Oklahoma state prisons serving life without parole for nonviolent drug crimes. . . “How can you lock up somebody to die over a nonviolent crime?” said Ott, now 51. “I am sentenced to death, not sentenced to be punished or corrected. I’m sentenced to die in prison.”
Medical Marijuana in Oklahoma. In May 2015, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2154 into law. This bill is also known as Katie and Cayman’s Law, after two Oklahoma children who suffer from epilepsy. The law creates a pilot program where physicians may recommend that children with epilepsy participate in clinical trials of marijuana oil containing high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD) and less than .3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Local University medical centers are tasked with administering these trials.
Advocates hoping to expand the medical marijuana program have faced difficulty finding support. Activist group Green The Vote attempted to place an initiative on the 2016 ballot to legalize medical marijuana. The group was able to collect only around 70,000 of the required 123,725 signatures necessary to get this medical marijuana initiative on the 2016 ballot. Another group, Oklahoman’s For Health hopes to fare better. It plans to start a signature drive in Spring of 2016.
Oklahoma proponents of medical marijuana may have a chance if they are able to get an initiative on the ballot. A 2013 poll showed that 71% of Oklahomans support medical marijuana. More recent data was not readily available. Despite being dated, that number is significant. Nationally, support for marijuana legalization has increased since 2013 and this could be a strong indication Oklahoma is ready for change, especially on the medical cannabis front. However, until a group can gather the required signatures we will not know.
Oklahoma’s Meddling With Colorado. Oklahoma borders Colorado, and since Colorado legalized relations between these two states have been a bit tense. In 2014 Oklahoma (along with Nebraska) sued Colorado over marijuana legalization, alleging that marijuana seeping into Oklahoma from Colorado has strained Oklahoma’s financial and legal resources, by forcing it to spend time and money making arrests, housing criminals, impounding vehicles, and seizing drugs. The Obama administration has filed a brief supporting Colorado and requesting that the Court dismiss the lawsuit. In other words, even the federal government opposes Oklahoma’s bizarre stance on marijuana.
Bottomline: Oklahoma is just plain bad when it comes to marijuana law and policy. It has life sentences for marijuana offenses and it is pursuing a lawsuit against Colorado essentially for having legalized. The sooner the Sooner State changes on cannabis, the better and for now, Oklahoma is the second worst state on cannabis.