Tip of the spear

by James Bridges

It seems simple.  It is the equivalent to sitting in the local “best-kept-secret” eatery, ordering a meal with the finest ingredients, waiting impatiently as you give a quick few glances at the kitchen doors, and then finally the food comes.  You have no idea what went into the preparation.  You have no idea how much time and thought it actually took for the chef to choose the perfect ingredients, not to mention the chef’s education and experience that helped him perform the task of making you, and possibly a companion, the meal of your dreams.  You just know it happened.  

We all know there is a chef behind those doors.  However, we rarely have a chance to talk to them in person.  Well, I got that chance today.  Though he is not one to perform the task of creating a dish for you, or any of us, he is a creator.  Some might say the “masterchef.”  He cooked up something that most of us thought would never happen in our lifetime.  This chef cooked up one of the greatest Oklahoma state questions that ever passed.  Meet Chip Paul.  The “master chef” of state question 788.

I asked Chip what it was like the moment SQ 788 passed.  “I had probably one or two more beers than I should have, but I was very celebratory. I just can’t tell you how cool it is and what a great country we live in.  You know, I dealt with the one law that I had broken in my life repeatedly, that could have made me a felon. I was able to write a law, petition the state, and get a lot of people to agree with medical marijuana. Election night for me was really overwhelming, frankly.  It is a really, really cool thing that I’m so proud of.”

To say that Chip’s demeanor as I sat down with him was calm and confident would be a huge understatement.  I actually had a sense of overwhelming admiration, which is somewhat of a rarity in my world as most of the time the people I encounter have only dollar signs in their eyes and ego pumping words flowing from their mouth.  It was quite soothing to say the least.

“I don’t have a lot of ego.  I mean, I always say I have a lot of pride in what we’ve done.  I’m so proud of our state.  I’m so proud of the people in our state.  No other state has done it this way.  Every other state has had big money, big Industry, you know, pushing the issue. No one’s ever done it for we the people. I am so proud of us, you know, just we the people. So it’s, it’s, I mean it’s been a really cool experience.”

There are so many people that you meet in this world that once you find out their history you kind of simply accept that they were essentially destined to be in the position they are in…Grandad was a farmer, dad was a farmer, guess what the next generation will most likely be?  As I got a glimpse into Chip’s family narrative things started to make sense.  

Chip is a sixth generation Oklahoman.  “My great-great-great-grandfather was married to the daughter of the Chickasaw Nation’s Chief in South Carolina. The two ventured to Oklahoma territory before the Trail of Tears. They actually established the area which is now Paul’s Valley.  So my family’s been in Pauls Valley forever.  My dad’s brother and my dad actually grew up on a farm in Pauls Valley.  We have three family members in the Chickasaw Hall of Fame. My grandfather was president pro tempore of the Senate. His wife, my grandmother, Mimi, she was Oklahoma Mother of the Year.  All of my grandparents graduated from college.  My sisters, my parents all graduated from college, which is kind of interesting generationally.  Not so much anymore, but for people my age, I’m 58, so that’s a bit unusual.  My dad is past president of Oklahoma Bankers Association.  My uncle is past president of the American Bar Association.  He’s actually been Knighted by the queen of England!  My cousin was valedictorian at Dartmouth Law.   My other cousin is a Harvard MBA and Stanford undergraduate.  I come from a really interesting kind of family.  One of my sister’s is from Georgetown law.  I’m a mathematician, yeah that’s what I went to school for.  I’ve always been a kind of logic and law person.”

As Chip discussed more about his engaging and impressive genealogy I couldn’t help but laugh with him as he paused.  I can certainly understand now.  If there was a black sheep in his family he, most assuredly, was not it.  The soup that made up his blood almost forced him to have no other choice than to accomplish so much.

“If I have a gift I would say it’s being able to take small bits of information and putting them together into a big picture.”  

A stereotypical mind might imagine that the spearhead of marijuana advocacy would be more of what some call a “slacker.”  To sit with a confident, well spoken, articulate, and intelligent person was damn inspiring as well as refreshing.  It made me realize that there could have been no other way for such a historical event to happen.  I wondered what made this person have such an interest to lead the way for medical marijuana in Oklahoma.

“Really, learning in the beginning.  To learn and understand about medical marijuana and why it was important.  This then lead me to the science behind medical marijuana and why it is medically important.  Which lead me to, really, it’s strong overall importance of really understanding how we work.  So I’m very passionate about it as more of a tool to understand the endocannabinoid system. Once you understand that system, you really understand how we as human beings function.”

“I know that I wanted to do this before college.  I had real issues with the cocaine and with Quaaludes stuff like that when I was in high school.  I was a big partier.  Then when I was 20-years-old I quit doing everything.  I literally did not do any kind of drug.  It would bother me to take an aspirin.  I was probably 50-years-old when I suffered from back pain.  My wife Cynthia had neck pain.  So we knew that we had some kind of pharma in our future or, potentially, medical cannabis.  So I started researching it at that time. That’s when all the drivers really happened to spark advocacy part of all of this.  As I began to learn more about the endocannabinoid system, it really got me excited and I knew how important this was.” 

“If you look at it, you know, in kind of a perfect alignment way, I am in pretty perfect alignment with what I feel like I’m here to do.  I’m here to serve.  So I feel like I’m doing my thing.  I’m in perfect alignment.”

“I know where this will all go.  I mean, I can already see the path. I know how marijuana will be the key to unlock our health and help our future, in a big way.”

As the motives sunk in, I wanted more.  I got a taste of the “meal.”   But with any great dish, and a curious mind, I wanted the ingredients.  Would I ever take these ingredients and create something similar in my own kitchen?  Hell no.  Would I love to hear the story of inception?  Hell yes.

“I’ve gotta go back to March of 2014.  Cynthia and I and a gentleman named Frank Grove all sat around and decided to start Oklahomans for Health.  By May of that year we had a law written.  We submitted that to the Secretary of State for petition.  Well, somebody had to write all of that.  We couldn’t really find anybody that could, you know, write a medical marijuana law.  So I kind of dove in.  I looked at other states’ laws.  I pieced together what we circulated in 2014.  It had medical conditions in it and it was different than what we ultimately passed as 788.  We submitted it to a bunch of different activist groups, and a bunch of attorneys. We asked them to look at this and give us an opinion on it.  is this right?  Are we doing anything wrong?  Etc…”

“Fast forward to 2016.  At that time we were getting calls from different organizations letting us know that autism wasn’t on our list of medical conditions.  They said they know marijuana is working very good with kids with autism.  They asked if we could get it on the list.  Of course we said yeah!  There wasn’t any restrictions as long as someone could identify what it was.  That sparked a whole discussion about medical conditions and why we even would restrict this to certain medical conditions or why we even needed them?  The science in my mind made me ask, why would you restrict this to any medical condition?  So we decided to make those changes.”  

“We had to resend it out to be reflective of a referendum petition rather than the Constitutional one.  It had to be worded a little bit differently.  None of those changes got in there without my approval. Everything in there was vetted by me or us as a board.  We argued quite heavily over some things which is good.  The big things in that law were the lack of medical conditions.  The more libertarian aspects of the law pretty much came from me.”

I could really sense the passion from Chip as he explained in such detail the work that goes into this sort of thing.  I could only imagine the late nights, early mornings, and long road trips to make this happen for the people of Oklahoma.  I know from his response to a specific question.  I asked Chip if this was a 24/7 things for him and his wife, Cynthia.  He answered, “Yes!”  

“Since the beginning of this year, yes, and we’ve been 24/7.  We knew after this passed it, clearly, is going to keep going.  So the advocacy part is, and will be, very important.  We absolutely will stay one hundred percent involved.  We will attend every one of these, you know, legislative discussions.  I’m going to make sure that they get this right!”

There was a very much undeniable, from-the-heart statement that Chip made during our talk.  “In Oklahoma we’ve created this like no other state.  I am very proud of that.  We did this through the people working hard on the street, behind a desk, and holding a microphone.  I’m privileged to be the lense, but we could not have done this without the people.”  

My curiosity ran very high as we came close to the conclusion of our discussion.  I wondered what would be next for both Chip and Cynthia.  Most would hope for them, at this point, to have an extra long get-away planned on a quiet beach somewhere.  For some reason, I wouldn’t allow myself to believe that that would be the case.  So I asked…

“We are now working with a major university for lab research to focus on how we’re able to use certain Technologies.   For instance, if you just take a THC capsule and let’s say you have 25 mg of THC in that capsule, we’ve got 225 extra mg of head room.  So what do you put in there?  We can put things in there that will cause that THC to be more psychoactive or less psychoactive.  We can target organs.  We can make it, very specifically, do certain things within your body regulation.  So that kind of stuff is what excites me.”  

“We’re planning to get into the business as a product company.  We’re also potentially planning to get in the business of the testing.  So, as a testing company, again, I can begin to do my own tests on the herbs that I already know can affect the endocannabinoid system, and we can really move a lot faster than we have as it is with Gnu Pharma, my current company.  I’m excited about all that.  I can play with my science!”

“Cynthia is my right hand person and when I am given credit for anything she should get at least 50%.  We do everything as a team and this is very, very important to our team.”

So he may not be an actual Chef like Anthony Bourdain.  It’s actually a very good possibility that he can’t even cook mac-n-cheese from a box.  Hell, for all I know he doesn’t even know how to turn a stove on… But I do know this.  He is Chip Paul and you should know who he is.  Without him, what we all thought was nearly impossible actually happened.  That’s one hell of a chef in my view.

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