This week a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD), Mark Woodard, made a series of outrageous claims in conversation with The Edmond Sun that marijuana legalization in Colorado has caused a spike in related criminal activity and overdoses. While on its face it is laughable, these demonstrably false claims are an unsettling example of the OBNDD once again advancing an agenda that is completely disconnected from a mature understanding of drugs and drug policy.
OBNDD leadership has a clear motive for protecting this reprehensible and unsustainable system. It should be no surprise that the soldiers in the war on drugs have an interest in keeping the war going. As states across the nation turn to more sensible drug policies, we can not allow OBNDD officials to operate as a government subsidized propaganda machine promoting decades of failed drug policy. Dedicating state resources to a misinformation campaign at the same time Oklahoma is making massive cuts to critical services is a new low for Oklahoma.
The reality of marijuana legalization is at odds with the fable being peddled by OBNDD leadership. Not only has the US yet to see a single death from marijuana overdose, a 2016 report from the Drug Policy Alliance indicates marijuana has little to no impact on the number auto fatalities. While a greater number of people have tested positive for THC than prior to legalization, it is disingenuous to claim this indicates more people are driving under the influence. There is a clear difference between the presence of THC in one’s blood stream, which can linger for weeks after consumption, and being under the influence of marijuana. This is something our drug enforcement agencies know well, and claiming otherwise is a clear indicator of their compromised position.
Isolated incidents and anecdotal evidence do not paint an accurate picture of what legal marijuana looks like in any states that have adopted a smarter approach to drug policy. Lingering problems with marijuana legalization can and should be addressed within a system that allows for recreational and medical marijuana use. The challenges that may result from a major shifts in our drug laws are not adequate excuses to continue our clearly failing status quo.
It is well past time for Oklahoma’s policy makers to reject the intentional misinformation from law enforcement agencies who are willing to cast aside policies that inspire greater safety and liberty in favor of their own self preservation.
Unfortunately, top policy makers too often give unwarranted deference to opponents of sensible drug laws and also fail to understand the seriousness of this conversation.
State Treasurer Ken Miller joked he would consider the benefits of legalized marijuana if we could devote the increased revenue to a “Get High for Higher Ed.” Commenting on the possibility of marijuana legalization and its taxation as a remedy for the state’s budget crisis, Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall literally laughed off the question, saying Oklahoma must reach “the bottom of the options” before considering such a measure.
It is concerning that top policy makers would literally laugh off the idea that we might reverse a policy that has ruined countless lives and at the same time increase revenue as Oklahoma is gutting critical services for its most vulnerable citizens. A grown up conversation about marijuana policy shouldn’t have to wait until we’ve hit rock bottom, but if that is a prerequisite for Speaker McCall, it’s hard to imagine that we aren’t there already.
The war on drugs, and marijuana in particular, has failed and serious people aren’t laughing. It’s time to retire the antiquated and unfounded caricatures of adults who responsibly use marijuana on a regular basis. It’s time to defund state sponsored fear mongering by the last of the drug warriors. And it’s time that politicians have the courage to engage in actual conversations instead of reducing their responses to one-liners.
The future of marijuana policy in Oklahoma deserves more than the intellectual sophistication of jokes told by second graders on the playground. And policy makers won’t get there if they continue to rely exclusively on the self-serving commentary from out of touch zealots.