Marijuana proponents in Oklahoma working to help those on public assistance

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New state legislation changes could inadvertently impact medical marijuana users

Proponents, including several medical marijuana advocacy groups, are working together to create a bill that would protect medical marijuana users that receive state and federal assistance, such as Medicaid and food stamps. The push comes in response to changes in the state that could potentially result in a reduction of public assistance if the recipient tests positive for drug use, even if licensed to use marijuana for medical reasons. The bill is designed to counter federal laws, which still outlaw the use of marijuana.

Rachel Bussett, an attorney working to craft the bill, is concerned that federal and state regulations could restrict access to marijuana and even gun ownership and prevent recipients from enjoying certain freedoms simply because they receive public aid. She explains, “We’ve already had scares about (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) coming and taking guns, and we’ve had individuals who’ve expressed fear about having certain benefits denied.”

Between 2012 and 2016, under 3% of recipients of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal subsidy program for certain individuals and families, tested positive for drug use. Bussett, and the others designing the bill, want to see those on TANF, WIC and the state’s Medicaid program, SoonerCare, protected from an over-reaching federal government. She points out that any program that requires a drug test should not result in a change in benefits for anyone who has a medical marijuana license.

Stressing that there are no restrictions or disqualifications for prescribed opiate use, Bussett says, “Medical cannabis should be treated in the same category as any other medication like opiates.”

The bill, which is currently 223 pages long, has yet to find a backer among the state’s lawmakers; however, it has received a great deal of input by a number of legislators. It has also been rewritten to include language that makes it easier for employers to ban its employees from using marijuana. Now, instead of listing specific job types that are not eligible for medical marijuana exemptions, the wording simply covers “safety-sensitive jobs.”