Marijuana advance stalls in Okla.

OKLAHOMA CITY (BP) -- Since adopting what may be America's most permissive medical marijuana law, Oklahoma has seen pushback by medical experts and other citizens against potential misuse of the drug.

State Question 788 was adopted by Oklahoma voters June 26 to legalize medical marijuana, but the ballot measure did not provide detailed instructions on who may use marijuana or who may prescribe it. That task fell to state legislators and licensing boards.

To marijuana supporters' chagrin, medical experts have advocated regulations that would limit the potency of medical marijuana and ban sales of smokable cannabis. The state Board of Health enacted both regulations July 10 but rescinded them less than a month later, leaving the state legislature to decide whether to reenact such policies. Fewer than 50 doctors have joined a registry of Oklahoma physicians interested in recommending medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, a petition to put legalization of recreational marijuana on November's ballot in Oklahoma failed to garner enough signatures.

State Question 788 on medical marijuana "was a deceptive ploy" to pave the way for "widespread use of recreational marijuana," said Blake Gideon, an opponent of the measure and pastor of First Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla.

"My prayer," Gideon told Baptist Press, is for "clear guidelines on what type of doctors can prescribe medical marijuana," "strict guidelines on the types of illnesses that qualify," a ban on smokable marijuana and a reversal of S.Q. 788's provision allowing two-year prescriptions for marijuana.

Oklahoma's law permits individuals 18 and older to obtain a medical marijuana license with the approval of "an Oklahoma Board certified physician." Minors are permitted to obtain medical marijuana with the signatures of "two physicians and the applicant's parent or legal guardian." The law took effect July 26, but it could take nine months or longer for the measure to be implemented, according to media reports.

In August, multiple panels of medical experts told an Oklahoma legislative working group that tight regulation of medical marijuana is needed, including a ban of smokable cannabis and a cap on the permissible amount of marijuana's psychoactive ingredient, THC.

When legislators expressed concerns about overturning voters' desire for largely unrestricted medical marijuana access, Oklahoma State University psychiatrist Jason Beaman replied, "The way that the people vote doesn't change the danger in the THC content. So if [voters] want high levels, that's certainly their vote, but it doesn't change the science of what the high levels do," the Tulsa World reported.

Bob McCaffree, a faculty member at the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center, told legislators, "I don't envy you.... All I can say is as a scientist, we know what the ill effects are of smoking any substance," the World reported.

The Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City reported Sept. 9 that just 48 doctors have joined a state registry of physicians open to recommending medical marijuana to patients, "only a small percentage of all doctors practicing statewide," though some physicians not on the registry also may be willing to prescribe marijuana. In contrast to the apparently small number of participating doctors, nearly 3,000 patients applied to use medical cannabis during the first five days the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority accepted applications.

Mike Scifres, a retired Oklahoma pharmacist who serves on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said some patients with severe pain may "need" cannabis-based medication, but it long has been available in prescription pills approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Smokable cannabis, he said, is not likely to provide medical benefits unavailable through regulated pills.

"The cost is going to be, I'm sure, cheaper for the smokable" marijuana, Scifres told BP. Yet "it's probably not going to help as many [patients] as [marijuana proponents] want it to help. And I don't believe it's beneficial for our society."

An OSU public health specialist told legislators marijuana dispensaries increase the risk of property crime in adjacent neighborhoods at a rate similar to the increased risk near bars, alcohol-service restaurants and liquor stores, according to the World.

Up to 10 percent of marijuana users develop signs of addiction, The Oklahoman reported, though recreational users have been studied more often than medical users.

On Aug. 20, a petition drive to put recreational marijuana legalization before Oklahoma voters fell about 20,000 signatures short of the required 123,725, according to media reports.

Gideon urged churches to prepare for ministry as the implementation of medical marijuana progresses.

"We have to be ready to minister to individuals and families," Gideon said. "There will be negative side effects" of medical marijuana.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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