'If It Can Happen In Oklahoma, It Can Happen Anywhere': Oklahomans For Health's Chip Paul Talks Medical Marijuana Win

Last night, one of the most conservative US states voted to legalize medical marijuana. Even more surprising than that, the cannabis bill they passed is one of the most progressive in the country.

Instead of hammering out exactly which conditions are and aren't eligible for medicinal cannabis, Oklahomans for Health - the group behind the successful ballot initiative - are leaving the issue of eligibility up to the doctors. 

"We put forth a rather unique state question," Chip Paul - co-founder of Oklahomans for Health - told Civilized. "We did away with medical conditions under our law. We don't rely on the checkbox kind of medical system, we rely on a physician opinion. And we're just so pleased that Oklahomans have seen that, and they've adopted that, and they understand that that's a better way."

When you started the campaign to have that question put forward and to move medical marijuana legalization In Oklahoma did you think it was going to happen? Did you have some doubts?

Oh yeah, definitely. We have had tons of ups and downs. When you do this you live with it every day. Every news article or negative thing that comes out worries you to death and every positive thing you get excited about. But we certainly—when we formed our Oklahomans for Health four years ago—felt like we had a good chance of doing this. And after petitioning the state in 2014, we knew we had a really good chance of doing this, just because of the overwhelming interest that we got in that first petition effort. So we knew that we could get it on the ballot and we felt pretty sure we could get it passed.

We spent about 43 cents a signature to get this on the ballot. Our organization's spent less than $10,000 on this campaign. The No's spent close to $1,000,000 on this campaign. But I think that tells you all you need to know about the grassroots here in Oklahoma, how important this is to people, and that people just showed up and voted positively for the state question.

It proves you can't just buy your way out of this.

Exactly. Or you can't, you know, just buy an election. And the nice thing about that though is that we're beholden to no one. So when we start regulating under this law, we will propose regulations and we certainly will expect those regulations to be adopted by our lawmakers. But industry will be proposing things here, not waiting on lawmakers to drive this.

What are some of the next steps that you'll be looking at?

So, regulation absolutely. What I'm doing right now is I'm going through regulations and working on writing our proposed rules.

What do you think this means for medical marijuana not only in Oklahoma but on a national level?

The comment's been made many times, 'if it can happen in Oklahoma it can happen anywhere.' So, I think we might be just the right domino to get things happening nationally. Certainly any other state that's looking at this should look at Oklahoma. It's certainly possible to do, it's certainly possible to do it with not a lot of money, there's plenty of grassroots support out there for this.

Do you have any guesses on what state might be the next to move the needle on medical marijuana?

Texas has a limited program, but I don't think Texas will abide us being first in much. I'd expect that they would broaden their program. Kansas—you know neighboring states I think would would probably look at this interestingly, so Kansas would be another interesting one.

What was the mood like on the election night?

Oh, just buoyant! Everybody was so excited. Everybody's worked so hard for this, everybody was just over the moon excited last night when the results started coming in. Again we've had a million dollars in 'no' advertisements thrown at us, so everybody got used to seeing the 'no' ads on TV over the last two weeks. So when stuff like that happens I mean that's a bit scary and certainly we wanted to do this on no money. That's a scary risk. But we passed it pretty handily - fifty-seven percent is a mandate.

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Right now, cannabis can only be legally purchased through dispensaries or online retailers, but that could change if a group representing corner stores across America gets its way. The lobbying arm of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is preparing to fight for the ability of their members to sell weed once it becomes federally legal in America. NACS doesn't have support for federal cannabis policy reform on their official agenda, but that doesn't mean they don't want a piece of the pie if the industry is legalized nationwide.

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