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Legislator Proposes Bill to Legalize Marijuana in Oklahoma

31-Jan-2014

Oklahoma state senator Constance Johnson, D-Forest Park, has filed a bill proposing the legalization of marijuana. Considering the severity of Oklahoma's drug laws, this seems to be an exercise in futility.  

Senate Bill 2116 is the most recent of Johnson's attempts to ease restrictions on marijuana in Oklahoma. Under the bill, marijuana would become legal for adults aged 21 and older, and its sale would be regulated by the Oklahoma Department of Health. Johnson says that the state's current system of stringent penalties for simple possession and distribution of marijuana are "unsustainable," pointing to the long sentences doled out for marijuana offenses in Oklahoma.

Johnson believes that decriminalizing marijuana would lead to a reduction in gang violence and prison overcrowding. The director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) agrees, saying that placing marijuana in a regulated market will put an end to "black market funding to the gangs and the people who are making money off it on the street.” While proponents of legal marijuana in Oklahoma point to a decrease in crime and a reduction in prison crowding and Department of Corrections costs among the benefits, not everyone agrees.

Conservative Republicans, many law enforcement officials, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, and even the alcohol and tobacco industries are among the groups opposing the legalization of marijuana.

In addition to SB 2116, which would allow recreational marijuana in Oklahoma, Johnson has authored two other bills which are still alive before the state senate. These include SB 710, which would legalize medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and SB 914, which would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of pot, regardless of whether it is for medical or recreational use.

Currently, two states--Colorado and Washington--have legalized marijuana for recreational use in a regulated market. Earlier this month, New York became the 21st state (including Washington D.C.) to approve medical marijuana.

Despite Johnson's proposed bills, it seems as if Oklahoma could be the last holdout in legalizing marijuana. After all, the state has staunchly opposed marijuana and vigorously prosecuted drug crimes. Looking at any list of the toughest sentences for marijuana offenses, Oklahoma appears multiple times. Furthermore, the state continues to hold some of the strictest laws on the import and sale of alcohol. If Oklahomans cannot purchase refrigerated high-point beer or buy wine at the grocery store, how likely is it that they will be able to walk into the nearest head shop and buy an ounce of pot?

Certainly, Oklahoma's war on drugs has been expensive, and it has resulted in numerous casualties. However, despite necessary reforms, the legalization of marijuana in Oklahoma is unlikely to occur anytime soon.



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