Without a card, having marijuana could still mean jail time
Some of Oklahoma's top law enforcement officials still expressed doubt Wednesday about how they would enforce the state's new marijuana laws.
Should someone with a small amount of marijuana face jail time and a fine, or simply pay $400 if they don't have a medical marijuana license?
At a legislative hearing on medical cannabis policy, Public Safety Commissioner Rusty Rhoades asked lawmakers to give his department, which includes state Highway Patrol troopers, guidance on how to handle situations of drug possession.
"The concern is our troopers and other members of law enforcement, if we come across folks on the highway, we want to make sure that we're protecting the rights of the people of this state," he said. "We also are sworn to protect the people of the state from sometimes themselves and maybe others who could be in a situation where they could cause harm."
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He also said the agency doesn't want to violate peoples' constitutional rights.
Both state questions handle marijuana possession differently, with 2016's State Question 780 reducing simple possession from a felony to a misdemeanor with either a $1,000 fine or a year in jail, or both.
State Question 788, however, only lets police issue a $400 fine if someone without a medical marijuana license has up to 1.5 ounces of the drug, but only if they say they have it for a medical condition. Having large amounts of marijuana could still lead to felony charges.
Rhoades said the issue came up during a recent convention of state troopers, and the recommendation for now is to follow State Question 780. He again suggested the Legislature step in and settle the question.
"Honestly, we don't know," he said. "We don't know because there is conflict in that arena."
After voters passed State Question 788, officials in Tulsa expressed doubt about how they would enforce marijuana possession. State Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, issued a curt response on Twitter.
"I think prosecutors would be wise to follow the expressed instruction of voters in 788 until the Legislature goes into session," Echols wrote.
Prosecutor Brian Hermanson, president of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, said his office in Kay and Noble counties would follow the law as written in State Question 788, which was adopted last month. For conflicting laws, he said, it's appropriate to follow both the most recent and more specific law.
"As a prosecutor, I would say this specific statute would take precedence over a general statute. In my jurisdiction, we would look at (State Question 788) for guidance as to what to do in those types of situations," Hermanson said.
He still has questions about why someone can simply proclaim a medical condition without offering proof, while people carrying prescribed drugs require a prescription or labeling to prove they are allowed to have it.
"It seems to me that marijuana needs to be treated as people voted, as medical marijuana, and as such it should be held to the same standards as other drugs are in the (prescription) drug community," he said.
The bipartisan legislative working group on medical marijuana policy meets every Wednesday in public session at the state Capitol.