by Kayla Johnson
With the passing of state question 788, Oklahomans have an incredible opportunity to create real, lasting change where it is needed. From our struggling economy to the state of our schools, there is no shortage of problems. While medical cannabis could be instrumental in addressing those problems, leadership in the state’s capital will be of utmost importance as the state works to dig itself out of a hole.
With the exception of the last two months leading up to the June 26 vote on the bill, most of those campaigning for governor have made little mention of the bill or the rapidly growing cannabis movement in the state. One candidate, however, has made it clear from the beginning that he not only supports medical marijuana, but he supports the possibilities that will come from it for the state and the people of Oklahoma. The Libertarian candidate for governor, Chris Powell, acknowledges that there are a number of issues in the state, but recognizes that the medical marijuana law may be a solution for many of them. This includes the education budget, the lack of economic growth, and the incarceration crisis facing the state.
“The amount of industry and number of businesses being created will have a lasting, beneficial impact on our state’s economy and communities,” said Powell. Powell is a candidate who says he has struggled with being “essentially shut out by most major media outlets in the state during the campaign.” Powell thinks that economic growth isn’t the only benefit to be had. Oklahomans will have more options with their healthcare, which will, in turn, possibly reduce the number of people dependent on opioids. He calculates that this can help reduce the prison population because he believes that fewer people will be addicted, therefore, less crimes will be committed that are fueling addiction. “It makes a lot of things better, directly and indirectly.”
With both hemp and medical marijuana being legalized, Powell has a green tinted vision for Oklahoma. He states his position is strongly in favor of full legalization and decriminalization. “Coupling hemp and fully legalized cannabis production in the state has the potential for massive economic growth for all of Oklahoma, and that will continue to benefit, not only our economy and our healthcare, but our schools that desperately need funding.” For him, that vision starts with decriminalization, stating simply, “people should not be sanctioned against for being in favor of a plant.” If elected, Powell plans to get behind expunging past charges related to cannabis from criminal records and, for many, that may mean being released from prison.
Despite the struggles and difficulties the state has faced within the legislature during Governor Fallin’s term, Powell is optimistic about the future. “Things are changing now,” he said, “and I don’t think the taboo of cannabis will last much longer, not once the money begins to come in.” He states that people are ready for real change. “Over 70 new faces are coming to replace many representatives in the state. These are the people who will be passing the permanent rules for medical marijuana in the state and, with all of the changes, it’s a new day for cannabis in the state legislature, as long as the rules are passed fairly.” While there has been strong opposition, even now that the bill is law, Powell firmly believes the old attitude will change. “As this is further implemented, the attitude will change as they begin to see the benefits of it impacting the state and the people they serve.”
While his campaign has struggled, Powell is more concerned about the voters. “The media is really not serving the voters here by not sharing the views of ALL of the gubernatorial candidates.” Powell is concerned that his fellow candidates have not had to address cannabis in Oklahoma much because it’s simply not high on their radar. “It’s not an issue they care about. But I do.”
Even with the odds stacked against him, Powell is determined to take a stand for Oklahoma voters. “I’m the candidate that has been out in front in favor of decriminalization and legalization from the start. Going forward, we can see a lot of progress, because every vote I can get sends a message to the state legislature that the people who support cannabis in Oklahoma want to be heard.”
Despite the importance of a strong cannabis industry for the state, candidates Kevin Stitt R) and Drew Edmondson (D) declined this publication’s offer to speak about the new businesses and benefits Oklahoma can receive from a thriving cannabis industry.