Washington Post

In red-state Oklahoma, marijuana ballot question splits people of faith

Clergy on both sides of State Question 788, which would permit the distribution of medical marijuana, call it a moral issue.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Presbyterian minister Bobby Griffith sees it, legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma could help arthritis sufferers with chronic pain and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 41-year-old husband and father has a personal reason, too, for supporting State Question 788 — a pro-marijuana initiative that the Bible Belt state’s voters will decide June 26.

“For myself, I would be interested in a prescription for it to see if it works better than my anxiety and depression medications,” said Griffith, co-pastor of a Presbyterian church near downtown Oklahoma City and a member of the national group Clergy for a New Drug Policy.

As Griffith characterizes it, the Oklahoma ballot measure’s potential to improve health outcomes and reduce dependence on addictive opioid painkillers makes it a “moral issue.”

Religious opponents counter that backing the issue would be immoral. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., an ordained Southern Baptist pastor, blasts the ballot measure as a “recreational marijuana vote disguised as medical marijuana.”

“The moral issue to me is really a family issue,” Lankford, who directed a Baptist youth camp before his 2010 election to Congress, told Religion News Service.

“The best thing for our state is not to get more parents and grandparents to smoke marijuana,” added the senator, who filmed a commercial urging voters to reject State Question 788. “To have our communities more drug-addicted and distracted, that doesn’t help our families. It doesn’t make us more prosperous. It doesn’t make our schools more successful.”

About 30 states have passed medical marijuana laws, starting with California in 1996, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Oklahoma would be the first to do so without listing qualifying conditions. That, assert critics, would allow doctors to issue two-year marijuana licenses to patients for any reason. The Oklahoma State Medical Association cites a lack of “evidence-based studies” to support medical marijuana.

“It’s trying to trick the people of Oklahoma into buying into it,” said the Rev. Paul Abner, an Assembly of God pastor who leads an anti-marijuana coalition called Oklahoma Faith Leaders.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.

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