Voters in Oklahoma on Tuesday elected to legalize medical marijuana, which makes the state the 30th to allow the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. This vote overcame a late opposition campaign from law enforcement and business, faith and political leaders.
Oklahoma State Question 788 allows individuals 18 and older to obtain a medical marijuana license with a board-certified physician’s signature, although younger applicants can get an exception if a parent or guardian, and two doctors sign. A new office in the Oklahoma State Department of Health will enforce regulations, including licensing for dispensaries, growers, and processors.
The proposal, which passed by a 57% to 43% margin on Tuesday, will allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any medical condition they see fit.
Oklahoma Goes Green
The campaign didn’t appear to have significant funding from major national drug policy reform groups that have helped to pass measures in other states over several past election cycles. It additionally faced an opposition that poured roughly half a million dollars into television ads seeking to undermine support for medical marijuana.
However, the initiative was approved, suggesting that cannabis politics have now evolved to the point where voters in places like Oklahoma don’t necessarily need to be convinced to support reform proposals when they are placed on the ballot.
The new measure is also unique in that it doesn’t tie medical marijuana to any specific qualifying conditions, which will likely make it easier, compared to other states, to obtain pot for medicinal and recreational uses.
There has been proof that marijuana helps with chemotherapy, chronic pain and conditions of the like. However, the evidence of marijuana’s efficacy for other conditions remain weak. That’s not necessarily because pot is ineffective, but because supporting research is nonexistent or lacking. Additionally, federal marijuana remains illegal for any purpose. According to Vox, the federal ban has imposed harsh regulatory hurdles on research about the drug — in large part allowing studies about marijuana’s risks but not its benefits. That’s made it difficult for researchers to gain a better grasp of the drug’s potential medical benefits.
Medicinal Vs. Recreational
After voters approved the measure, the governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, followed with a statement saying she respects the will of the voters.
“It is our responsibility as state leaders to look out for the health and safety of Oklahoma citizens,” the governor said. “As I mentioned in previous public comments, I believe, as well as many Oklahomans, this new law is written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana. I will be discussing with legislative leaders and state agencies our options going forward on how best to proceed with adding a medical and proper regulatory framework to make sure marijuana use is truly for valid medical illnesses.”
Federal law says marijuana is illegal, but a majority of states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing its use for medical reasons. Later this year, Michigan and Utah will also vote on whether to allow cannabis for medical use.
Is Marijuana Hurting Or Helping Addiction?
Researchers at Mount Sinai hospital in New York have recently been studying ways to combat the opioid epidemic and claim that properties of marijuana, including CBD directly reduces heroin-seeking behavior. A small pilot study in humans, led by Dr. Yasmin Hurd, mirrored these animal findings. Dr. Hurd’s human study revealed that CBD reduced heroin-related, cue-induced craving experienced by heroin users. Moreover, CBD’s strongest effects were on the reduction of the anxiety induced by heroin cues.
There has been a remarkable shift in the attitude towards marijuana within just a number of years with it’s growing accessibility and social acceptance. Although it may have medicinal benefits, some research suggests that marijuana use is likely to precede use of other licit and illicit substances. Additional studies have shown that early exposure to cannabinoids in adolescent rodents decreases the activity of dopamine reward centers later in adulthood. To the extent that these findings generalize to humans, this could help explain the increased vulnerability for addiction to other substances of misuse later in life.
According to Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an estimated 2.7 million Americans meet the diagnostic criteria for marijuana dependence, second only to alcohol dependence. Marijuana’s estimated rate of addiction is lower than that of cocaine and alcohol (15 percent) and heroin (24 percent). Unlike with opioids and stimulants, marijuana dependence tends to develop slowly: Months or years may pass before symptoms begin to affect a dependent user’s life.
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