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Special session considered as medical marijuana debate heats up in Oklahoma

Gov. Mary Fallin intends to call a special session to develop legislation for the practical implementation of new medical marijuana laws if voters approve State Question 788 on Tuesday, a spokesman for the governor said.

"The governor is concerned that the state would not be able to have a system established in 30 days after passage as called for in SQ 788," Michael McNutt, the governor's communication's director, said Tuesday.

"The governor still plans to talk with Senate and House leadership about a possible special session," he said.

With Tuesday's vote on medical marijuana fast approaching, the conflict between advocates and opponents has been heating up.

Chip Paul, co-founder of the group that circulated Oklahoma's medical marijuana petition, said Tuesday that he is considering filing an assault complaint against Rogers County Sheriff Scott Walton. Paul said the sheriff grabbed him by the back of the neck Monday and escorted him out of a public forum on State Question 788 that was held at a Claremore events center.

"I was not being loud. I was not being obnoxious," said Paul, co-founder of Oklahomans for Health. "I'm a nerdy business guy. ... I've never had anything like that happen to me, frankly, since I was 16 years old."

Paul said he raised his hand a couple of times while a speaker was talking and made some comments to sheriff's deputies behind him.

"I said, 'I guess they're not going to answer my question,' and kind of laughed," Paul said, adding that he later remarked "this is frustrating," after a speaker made a statement that he considered to be ridiculous.

"At that point, the sheriff got in my face," Paul said. "He said, 'Then you need to get out. You need to get out right now.'"

Paul said the sheriff grabbed him around the neck and forcibly removed him from the room, pushing his head into a door on the way out, while another officer twisted his arm. Paul's forcible eviction was captured on video by Paul's wife and others.

The sheriff tells a different version of events, describing some pro-medical marijuana members of the crowd as being a bit disrespectful and unruly.

"We had three speakers and immediately we had disruptions," Walton said. "I got up and made an announcement: 'If you want to rent this place and have your own that's fine, but be respectful of these people, save your questions.'"

The sheriff said he then went to the back of the room to stand, where he witnessed Paul being disrespectful.

"His game was he would laugh when the people talking would make a point," the sheriff said.

Walton said Paul continued talking after being asked to turn around and be quiet until it was time to ask questions.

After several requests, the sheriff said he decided to remove him from the room.

"All I do is apply some pressure to the side of his head there and get compliance," Walton said, adding that he then walked Paul to the door.

Walton said Paul balked right as they reached the exit, which resulted in his head bumping into the door.

The sheriff said the bump was unintentional.

"I'm not going to do something outrageously stupid like throwing his head through a door with a mob of cameras behind me. I wouldn't do it if the cameras weren't there," he said.

Walton said Paul was asked to leave and did after being taken outside.

"As far as I'm concerned that was the end of the story, but not when social media gets a hold of it," he said. "I have no regrets, no apologies, no remorse. I'm not saying ... anything other than we did our best to maintain order in a crowd that was getting a little out of hand. ... I'm not saying it was a war in there, but we were starting to have little bickering arguments between the yes's and the no's."

Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU of Oklahoma, issued a news release Tuesday criticizing the sheriff's actions, saying they signaled “a disturbing reliance on government force to silence political speech.”

“Law enforcement must use force only under the most serious and threatening circumstances, a standard that Mr. Paul's behavior did not come close to meeting on Monday night,” Kiesel said. “The Rogers County Sheriff is not a stranger to using his taxpayer-funded office to wage a private war against SQ 788, but with the unwarranted, violent removal of Mr. Paul from a public forum, the Sheriff's actions have become criminal.”

Emotions of people on both sides of the medical marijuana issue have been ramping up recently as advocacy groups have put money in their advertising campaigns.

SQ 788 is NOT Medical, an organization that includes several chambers of commerce, religious groups, medical associations, law enforcement groups and the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, has spent more than $500,000 to date trying to persuade Oklahomans to vote against the medical marijuana state question.

One of the group's primary arguments is voters essentially would be authorizing recreational marijuana use rather than medical marijuana use because the state question says "no qualifying conditions" are required for a doctor to recommend medical marijuana for a patient.

Supporters of the state question strongly dispute that it would be tantamount to recreational marijuana approval, saying that "no one will be legally permitted to purchase marijuana from a dispensary without physician's approval, state approval and a valid state-issued medical marijuana license."

They say the "no qualifying conditions" language was written into the state question to give physicians the ability to recommend marijuana for a wide range of ailments.

Vote Yes on 788, a pro-medical marijuana group, has spent nearly $92,000 on its campaign in favor of the state question.

Rick Adams, who will become director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation on July 1, issued a news release Tuesday that said voter approval of SQ 788 would have a direct impact on the operations of his agency.

"In states that have either 'medical marijuana' programs or have legalized marijuana, there have been significant increases in driving under the influence of drugs cases, including arrests of drivers, traffic collisions, and traffic fatalities," the news release said.

The OSBI currently performs most toxicology tests on blood samples taken from drivers suspected of impaired driving. Adams predicted the number of required tests would increase if medical marijuana is approved and estimated the increased cost at $3 million or more.

An additional $1.5 million would be required if the agency is required to test for the quantity of marijuana derivatives in a person's blood stream rather than just the presence of the substances, he estimated.

Adams also said a provision in the state question that would prohibit medical marijuana license holders from unduly being denied concealed carry permits appears to be in direct conflict with federal law regarding the possession and purchase of handguns.

Related Photos
Chip Paul, chairman Oklahomans for Health, speaks with the media during a medical marijuana rally at the State Capitol in 2014. [The Oklahoman archives]

Chip Paul, chairman Oklahomans for Health, speaks with the media during a medical marijuana rally at the State Capitol in 2014. [The Oklahoman archives]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a75ef1a9d988f4a8a5202ee6d50ce617.jpg" alt="Photo - Chip Paul, chairman Oklahomans for Health, speaks with the media during a medical marijuana rally at the State Capitol in 2014. [The Oklahoman archives]" title="Chip Paul, chairman Oklahomans for Health, speaks with the media during a medical marijuana rally at the State Capitol in 2014. [The Oklahoman archives]"><figcaption>Chip Paul, chairman Oklahomans for Health, speaks with the media during a medical marijuana rally at the State Capitol in 2014. [The Oklahoman archives]</figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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