The Weekly Vista

Oklahoma clears air on legal pot


For advocates of fully legalized marijuana, the people of Oklahoma delivered a real bummer last Tuesday.

Marijuana legalizati­on has wafted across the country in the decade or so since Colorado and Washington in 2012 became the first states to claim the high ground on so-called recreation­al pot. It’s legal in 21 states.

Only Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska have no provision for any sort of legal marijuana. Other states have some form of medical marijuana, ranging from tightly controlled to barely regulated.

I’ve never quite warmed to the whole “recreation­al” marijuana concept. It’s not Pickleball, after all. It’s a drug. I don’t subscribe to the “reefer madness” paranoia that was drilled into people’s heads for so long, but I also don’t see it as this harmless over-the-counter product advocates have largely been able to market it as.

But the trend away from criminaliz­ing marijuana to legalizing it for largely self-prescribed medicinal uses has helped to clear a path toward more acceptance of marijuana overall. Still, Oklahomans said no.

The Associated Press reported the anti-legalizati­on interests — such as faith groups and other conservati­ves — were outspent 20 to 1 in the Oklahoma campaign to fully legalize marijuana use. And yet the legalizati­on plans went up in smoke. Exactly why is anyone’s guess, but the measure faced opposition from the state’s governor and other GOP leaders. Former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent, and Terri White, the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, led the “no” campaign.

“We don’t want a stoned society,” Keating said on the Monday before Election Day, flanked by district attorneys and law enforcemen­t officers from across the state.

The move toward legalizati­on has largely been an effort to convince everyday Americans that marijuana is no bigger deal than buying some wine or liquor down at the package store. It seems to me the case can be made that law enforcemen­t against marijuana has probably been too aggressive at times, but Keating’s remark seems like a pretty accurate evaluation of why legalizati­on isn’t all that desirable, either.

As with just about everything, it’s money — and not what’s best for people — that’s driving the push for marijuana legalizati­on. Medical marijuana became a reality in Arkansas because people became convinced it’s a compassion­ate step for people whose ailments cause them pain. But going for full legalizati­on suggests people in any condition are better off with marijuana than they are without it.

I doubt that’s true. Sure, an argument can be made that marijuana is safer than alcohol or that it can generate all sorts of tax revenue. Make those arguments if you’d like. They’re strong enough pitches for the cause. But when I think of people in general and whether they’re better off with or without marijuana in their lives, it seems a no-brainer that the latter is true. From a health standpoint, marijuana still presents dangers.

Arkansas voters rejected a recreation­al marijuana amendment to the state Constituti­on last November. State Sen. Joshua Bryant of Rogers has proposed in the current legislativ­e session a resolution for a constituti­onal amendment to legalize marijuana for home growing and adult use. It’s among dozens of amendments proposed, but the Legislatur­e can only recommend three proposals every other year.

Given the Legislatur­e’s recent passage of House Bill 1419 by Cave Springs Rep. Kendon Underwood that increases, from 15 to 50, the number of counties signatures for a voter initiative must come from, prospects for a marijuana free-for-all in Arkansas may have to rely on a legislativ­ely enacted measure like Bryant’s to see the light of day.

Greg Harton is editorial page editor for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Contact him by email at or on Twitter @NWAGreg.

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States