Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2018
Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)
Copyright: 2018 Star Advertiser


LINDSAY, Okla - Danny Daniels, an evangelical Christian in the rural
Oklahoma town of Lindsay, is reliably conservative on just about every
political issue.

The 45-year-old church pastor is anti-abortion, voted for President
Donald Trump and is a member of the National Rifle Association who
owns an AR-15 rifle. He also came of age during the 1980s and believed
in the anti-drug mantra that labeled marijuana as a dangerous gateway

But his view on marijuana changed as his pastoral work extended into
hospice care and he saw patients at the end of their lives benefiting
from the use of cannabis.

"Some people said I couldn't be a pastor and support medical
marijuana, but I would say most of the people I know, including the
Christians I pastor, are in favor of it," said Daniels, pastor of
Better Life Community Church in downtown Lindsay, a rural agricultural
and energy industry town about 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) south of
Oklahoma City.

Daniels is among a growing group of traditionally conservative
Republican voters in Oklahoma who have shifted their position on the
topic. Their support for a medical marijuana measure on Tuesday's
ballot could ensure Oklahoma joins the growing list of states that
have legalized some form of pot.

It's the first medical marijuana state question on a ballot in 2018,
and Oklahoma's vote precedes elections on marijuana legalization later
this year in Michigan and Utah. Michigan voters will decide whether to
legalize recreational pot while Utah is considering medical marijuana.

Among the reddest states in the country, Oklahoma has for decades
embraced a tough-on-crime philosophy that includes harsh penalties for
drug crimes that has contributed to the state now leading the nation
in the percentage of its population behind bars.

But voters' attitudes are changing. Two years ago Oklahomans voted to
make all drug possession crimes misdemeanors over the objection of law
enforcement and prosecutors. When one GOP senator discussed adding
exceptions after the public vote, he faced an angry mob at a town-hall

Oklahoma's State Question 788, the result of an activist-led signature
drive, would allow physicians to approve medical marijuana licenses
for people to legally grow, keep and use cannabis. The proposal
outlines no qualifying medical conditions to obtain a license, and an
opposition group that includes law enforcement, business, political
and faith leaders launched a late, half-million-dollar campaign to
defeat it, saying it's too loosely written.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who typically defers from commenting on
pending state questions, recently expressed reservations about the
question, saying it's so broadly worded it would essentially allow
recreational use of marijuana. If approved, Fallin said she intends to
call the Legislature back to a special session so that a statutory
framework could be approved to further regulate sale and use.

Bill Shapard, a pollster, said support for medical marijuana has been
consistently strong during the five years he's surveyed likely
Oklahoma voters. Not surprisingly, Shapard said young people,
Democrats and independents overwhelmingly support it.

But he said about half of self-identified evangelicals, churchgoers
and those over 65 also endorse medical cannabis.

"When you can get a large majority of the Democrats and independents
and a third to a half of Republicans to support you, you can get
anything passed in Oklahoma," Shapard said.

Joanna Francisco, a longtime Republican voter and self-described
evangelical, said the issue of medical cannabis "should appeal to
everyone who calls themselves a pro-life conservative."

"If you're a conservative, you should also be opposed to the state
spending exorbitant amounts of money on prosecutors and law
enforcement to keep this medicine out of the hands of people who might
need it," said Francisco, 49, who holds regular Bible studies in her
Tulsa home.

At Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 382 in El Reno, a conservative suburb
30 miles (48.3 kilometers) west of Oklahoma City, many of the regulars
don't like the idea of legalizing marijuana, even for medical reasons.
But attitudes are changing, said 73-year-old Bill Elkins, a disabled
Vietnam veteran who volunteers at the post.

"I've got mixed thoughts on that," said Elkins, a Republican who said
his daughter benefited from taking cannabidiol oil, a non-intoxicating
form of cannabis, for nerve pain. "Right now I'm on the fence."

Jack Hodgkinson, 71, a Vietnam veteran and supporter of Trump, said he
doesn't have a problem with the medical use of marijuana and plans to
vote for it.

"I've never messed with any drugs, marijuana or anything like that,"
Hodgkinson said. "But if it helps people who need it, I'm all for it."
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MAP posted-by: Matt