It was just announced that the effort in Oklahoma to gather enough signatures to place an initiative on the November 2014 ballot to legalize the industrial production of Hemp and recreational marijuana has failed. This is sad news for those who believe adults should have the right to access safe, legal marijuana, and those who believe children will be better protected from marijuana when it is sold to adults through licensed retailers in a regulated, legal market. What is even more troubling is the lack of support offered by NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project. These organizations have become the go-to resource for legalization efforts, as they have broad national support and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge through participation in numerous grass-roots legalization drives in states across the country. Chip Paul, one of the principle leaders of the Oklahoma effort attributed the loss, in part, to the lack of support shown by these big, national players (NORML and MPP), and suggested that they did not buy in to the effort because his (Paul's) organization was not well known.
NORML and MPP made a huge strategic blunder in not putting their full weight behind the marijuana legalization effort in Oklahoma. Perhaps they feel that a bible-belt state is not ready to legalize, and that their resources would be squandered in the effort. This is a sound argument, but consider another angle. Polling conducted in 2013 by NORML itself suggest that 71.2% of Oklahoma residents agree with legalizing medical marijuana, and a majority (57%) agree that Marijuana possession should be decriminalized below the current felony crime classification. The level of national attention that would be earned just by getting the legalization initiative on the Oklahoma ballot in November would have been worth the effort. Every national media outlet would flood the state of Oklahoma with journalists clamoring for a story that explains the debate. The Sooner state would be exposed to stories of potential economic booms from industrial hemp production, how multi-generational family farms could be saved, how clean bio-fuel sources, rope manufacturing, and medicinal oil production facilities would flock to Oklahoma, all leading to unparalleled job creation. There would also be stories about the true medical benefits of marijuana and the cost of incarceration for marijuana related crimes. The culmination of news reports would work to tell the true story of marijuana, and open the eyes of people unfamiliar with this plant who have been brain-washed by those with a vested financial interest in keeping marijuana illegal such as, private prison and pharmaceutical companies.
There were lessons learned in this legalization effort and hopefully more and better progress will be made in the next legalization initiative. Every bible-belt failure reaffirms the mindset of those on the fence that marijuana is harmful and ought to be left illegal. Until we convince the bible-belt that well-regulated medical and recreational marijuana have a place in our society, national legalization will not occur. It is time to spread well-informed policy to our God-fearing brethren, and support from the big players will be needed in this endeavor.