Speeches and music highlight pro-medical marijuana rally in Norman
NORMAN — An enthusiastic group of about 70 medical marijuana supporters rallied Saturday at Andrews Park in Norman — touting the drug as a treatment for a multitude of ailments and encouraging political activism.
"We're going to unbuckle the Bible belt," Norma Sapp, state director of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, shouted to supporters of State Question 788, the medical marijuana issue that will be on the June 26 primary election ballot.
"Happy State Question 788," she said. "We're 17 days away from a miracle."
Further energizing the crowd was Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Washington state medical doctor who touted the benefits of medical marijuana in treating chronic pain, muscle spasms, HIV wasting syndrome, nausea, vomiting and other ailments.
Aggarwal, who went to high school in Muskogee and the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in Oklahoma City, is an advocate of making medical marijuana widely accessible.
He acknowledged the irony of his medical marijuana advocacy after having attended high school in Muskogee, a city made famous by the Merle Haggard song "Okie from Muskogee" which starts out, "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee."
Despite his upbringing, Aggarwal said research and his experience as a doctor have convinced him of marijuana's medicinal value.
"At the very least, we have to agree that marijuana cannabis does have medical properties and it is unethical, it is wrong, it is immoral to withhold something that you know can be medically helpful for somebody," Aggarwal said. "Anybody who has a health issue that can be alleviated, it is wrong to withhold it from them. You just don't that. We're not cruel people here."
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The rally kicked off with music from the Oklahoma City band Magic Munchbox, but got off to a bit of a slow start when drummer Robby Andersen got stuck in an Andrews Park restroom when a lock broke.
The fire department was called and quickly freed him by prying open the door, Andersen said later.
Soon enough, the band and political rhetoric were both blasting away at high volume.
Norman City Councilwoman-elect Alex Scott and State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, both vowed strong support for State Question 788.
"I support legalizing medicinal cannabis for many reasons," Scott said. "I also support legalizing recreational cannabis for many reasons."
"It's a natural and nonaddictive means of pain relief, and I don't think we should be penalized for that, especially not in a place like Norman," she said.
Rosecrants said his support for medical marijuana stems from the experiences of his mother, who suffered from a painful spinal disease and died from liver sclerosis, despite not drinking alcoholic beverages.
"What do you think hurt her the worst?" he asked. "Yes, pharmaceuticals and opioids."
Rosecrants said his mother moved back to Colorado, which has state-legalized marijuana, where she lived the last seven years of her life.
"She was actually able to be pain free in the last years of her life because of marijuana," he said. "That's why I stand here before you."
Rosecrants encouraged State Question 788 supporters to not only help his campaign, but to work against candidates who would work to limit the impact of the state question if it passes.
He singled out state Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, for criticism.
"Get him out of there," Rosecrants said of the Oklahoma City anesthesiologist who authored proposed legislation that would have placed a number of restrictions on medical marijuana if State Question 788 is approved by voters.
Yen, who is a medical doctor as well as a state senator, could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Several speakers cautioned the crowd that the fight for medical marijuana will not be over if State Question 788 passes, because they expect a huge battle in the Legislature over how the measure should be fully implemented.
While Saturday's rally was called to support State Question 788, initiative petitions also were circulated at the rally in support of State Question 796 and 797, which call changing the state constitution to authorize medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, respectively.
State Question 788 would be a statutory change rather than a constitutional change.
A number of organizations have come out against State Question 788, including the Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Society of Anesthesiologists, Oklahoma Pharmacists Association, Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Oklahoma Hospital Association, Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, Oklahoma District Attorneys Association and Oklahoma Sheriffs' Association.