Marijuana as a Wedge Issue

Given the damage to so many lives from enforcement of the prohibition on marijuana use, liberalization of those laws is emerging as a movement with bipartisan appeal, even reaching into Red States like Oklahoma, as Richard L. Fricker reports.

By Richard L. Fricker

In Oklahoma, one of the reddest of Republican Red States, a glimmer of progressivism has broken through around the issue of marijuana where support appears strong for legalized medical marijuana and for reducing criminal penalties for other forms of possession.

A 2013 survey of Oklahoma’s registered voters conducted by Sooner Poll and released by the pro-legalization group NORML showed 71.2 percent favoring medical marijuana, 63.7 percent favoring treatment over incarceration for marijuana-related crimes, and 57.1 percent preferring that minor marijuana violations be treated as a non-criminal, fine-only offense.

A marijuana plant.

A marijuana plant.

Those numbers are not much different from the results of a recent national Gallup poll which showed 85 percent approval for medical marijuana, 73 percent approval for decriminalization and 58 percent approval for full legalization.

That conservative Oklahoma favors liberalizing marijuana laws reflects a trend among young Republicans toward libertarianism as well as the personal experience of so many from all political persuasions who have seen their own lives or the lives of relatives and friends scarred by arrests, incarceration and criminal records because of the “war on drugs”/”zero tolerance” prohibition on marijuana use.

Currently, Oklahoma’s marijuana penalties are among the country’s harshest, with sales of any cannabis punishable by two years to life in prison. Subsequent minor marijuana possession offenses are punishable by two to ten years in prison.

As Oklahoma’s public attitudes change, marijuana is finding its way into the discussion of November’s election. Legalization proponents have prepared an initiative petition seeking a popular vote on comprehensive legalization. The petitioners seek to legalize and decriminalize nearly all aspects of the current marijuana statute by creating a system for personal use, retail sale, taxation, cultivation, inspection and licensing.

The petition is, according Democratic State Sen. Constance Johnson, a response to legislative foot-dragging on medical marijuana legislation and recent polls showing strong bipartisan popular support for legalization and decriminalization. If petitioners are successful in placing the question on the November ballot, Oklahoma could possibly join the 21 other states that have legalized marijuana in some form.

“This will be the most comprehensive petition thus far,” said Oklahoma City attorney David Slane, architect of the referendum. “It will include provisions for medical, decriminalization, sale, growing, packaging, taxing and even harvesting hemp.”

Slane said the proposal would include penalties for selling without a license, driving under the influence and workplace regulation by employers. “You won’t,” he noted, “be able to be on the streets smoking.”

State Sen. Johnson has introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana in every session since taking office in 2005. When making her candidacy announcement for the U.S. Senate at the Tulsa Press Club, Johnson said, “Marijuana may be a defining moment in Oklahoma politics. It could turn the political pot upside down.”

Results of a Democratic and Republican polling firm operating in conjunction with George Washington University suggest that 68 percent of voters would be more likely to vote if if marijuana legalization were on the ballot. In Colorado and Washington state, youth voting, 18-30, increased by five to 12 points when legalized marijuana was on the ballot.

Tom Angell, founder of the group Marijuana Majority, told the National Journal, “These numbers provide even more evidence that marijuana reform is a mainstream issue and that smart politicians would do well to start treating it as such.”

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is the latest state chief executive joining in the drive for national decriminalization. He just signed legislation which made possession of 10 grams or less equal to a traffic citation and fine.

“I now think that decriminalizing possession of marijuana is an acknowledgment of the low priority that our courts, our prosecutors, our police, and the vast majority of citizens already attach to this transgression of public order and public health,” O’Malley said.

President Barack Obama waded into the debate during a January interview with New Yorker editor David Remnick, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol. It’s not something I encourage.”

Attorney General Eric Holder joined with the President in an interview with the Huffington Post, saying he was “cautiously optimistic” regarding complete decriminalization as it has taken place in Washington state and Colorado. Both states began open sale of marijuana this year.

Holder noted his experience as a judge: “I had to put in jail substantial numbers of young people for possessory drug offenses, and it was not from the perspective I had as a judge necessarily a good use of law enforcement resources.”

Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart disagreed with the President on the marijuana/alcohol comparison saying voters and legislators had been misled in supporting decriminalization. Another DEA official said “every single parent out there” was against decriminalization.

Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs spokesman Mark Woodward has attempted to make the same argument. However, to date he has offered little more than standard “war on drugs” hyperbole. Nearly 70,000 former prosecutors and law officers of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition disagree with the hard-line anti-marijuana position.

In Oklahoma, a state known for its conservatism, marijuana could be a wedge issue in a year many pundits have already given over to the Republicans. Remembering that 72.1 per cent of those polled approved of medical marijuana and that the Tea Party-controlled legislature refused to hear the issue the question becomes who does the legislature represent?

Nearly 200,000 signatures of registered voters in Oklahoma are required to place the issue on the November general election ballot.

Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, The Last Day of the War, is available at or at

7 comments for “Marijuana as a Wedge Issue

  1. Hillary
    April 21, 2014 at 12:32

    The federal prison population has ballooned 790 percent since 1980, and almost half of those now imprisoned are there for drugs ….

  2. BossIlluminati
    April 21, 2014 at 10:34

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING! 13

    “any doctor against marijuana is a doctor of death” – cali secret 420

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, cali runs this planet by 2 decades, time to tie marijuana to the 2014, 2016 elections, out with the old, in with the new

    20 years behind us southern states, sad and scary….nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody…the top ten incarcerators on the planet are southern states…even if marijuana reforms did pass the republiCANTS in charge would deny you all your freedoms, centuries of practice…no matter though, we never planned on getting your backwards brethren from day one, half the country already but not one southern state, lol…not 1….the new generations are taking over in the south and they are nothing like their freedom denying parents, let’s ride…

    Deaths by Alcohol and Tobacco: Millions
    Deaths by Prescription Drugs: Quadrupled in last decade
    Deaths by Guns: Millions
    Deaths by the food we are fed: Millions
    Deaths by Marijuana: 0, ever…they are killing my American family while denying freedom

    love and freedom forever


  3. Vthestate
    April 20, 2014 at 16:53

    Aside the so called bi partisan and pragmatic demos….. things that grow are legal.
    again, things that grow are legal…laws against things that grow …are ? wrong? stupid?
    no crimes …and the people that enforce criminal laws are criminals. No two ways about it. Honesty is challenging , simple but not easy.

  4. longtail
    April 20, 2014 at 09:22

    Although marijuana legalization may well reduce prison populations, save law enforcement costs and create tax income, I haven’t heard anyone decrying the adverse effects on one group of erstwhile capitalists – the mexican drug cartels might wish to vote against legalization.

  5. lumpentroll
    April 19, 2014 at 20:59

    Fiive or ten years ago I would’ve viewed this as a positive and ‘progressive’ trend. I no longer see it that way — except perhaps fewer lives will be destroyed by the crimminal justice system.

    Political elites, whether they consider themselves progressive or conservative, now come together on this issue because it serves the interests of their class. They see it as a business opportunity or a practical means of social control. Nothing happens in our politics anymore unless it benifits the crimminal intelligensia.

    We have been conned into thinking that legalization of drugs or recognition of gay marriage equals progress even as the superstructure of a technological police state/control grid has been rammed down our throats and into other orifices. We have been terrorized into a state of unprecedented submission.

    If you think you are free today then you are a pampered or distracted fool. I have no respect for you whatsoever.

    American progressives have lost their capacity to think. Something happened to their brains after B.O. was elected. I still remember my own exhuberance and hope after that day. All those good, smart and decent people who I stood beside all those years abandoned the fight exactly one day after they got a black president.

    Perhaps now is a good time to admit you were fooled.

    Will you ever break out of your conditioning, friends?

  6. Brian Kelly
    April 19, 2014 at 20:36

    Don’t be fooled by “decriminalization” because citizens are still going to be treated like common criminals for marijuana. This is what Kevin Sabet wants.

    Citizens will STILL be forced to the dangerous black market and a shady illegal street drug dealer to purchase their marijuana. Getting caught buying it is STILL a crime they will arrest and jail you for. Then, they will also FORCE you to mandatory rehab, and if you don’t comply, guess what? JAILTIME!

    No thanks!

    Also, we will still be wasting our tax dollars sending police around to ticket marijuana users and wasting police manpower and resources.

    Instead of allowing our police the time, manpower and resources to protect us all from real, dangerous criminals who actually commit crimes with victims and pose a real threat to society.

    Why else do you think they are so EAGER to “decriminalize”, instead of LEGALIZE?

    Don’t Let’em Fool You!!!


  7. Ali
    April 19, 2014 at 18:43

    During the worst economic depression since the which introduced the people to Fascist aggression, while young men and young women are being swamped with so much debt that they still live in mom’s basement, with unemployment for young people creating a generation who view the future as hopeless, Democratic and Republican politicians magically act bi partisan to introduce more narcotics to American youth. MLK asked what was the use of sitting at an integrated lunch counter if you have not got a dime for a cup of coffee. What is the point of being able to legally purchase a dime bag if you do not have a dime? Marijuana legalization is a counter insurgency program against American youth whose intent is to neutralize American youth from becoming politically active. This counter insurgency program appears active against the youth in the ghettos and barrios and inner cities of America now it is targeting the youth from the middle class and suburbs, youth who could contribute a lot to the success of a political organization with a program that targets student debt, unemployment and poverty that forces the government to introduce policy which solves these issues.

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