Is State Question 788 a good idea?

June 10, 2018
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

On June 26, Oklahomans will go to the polls to vote on candidates and issues that will impact the quality of life of all for us here in the Sooner State. Among the ballot measures that we must address is State Question 788, which, if passed, will legalize medical marijuana for persons over 18 years of age. We would be wise to study this carefully.

The Catholic Church has a rich history of concern for the well-being of the whole person and fostering a more just society.

Catholic institutions historically have advanced things such as education, health care and social services, which contribute to authentic human flourishing, especially as these affect the poor and most vulnerable. The bishops of the United States have long supported expanding health care coverage to ensure access to medical care for all. 

In spite of amazing medical and pharmaceutical advances, many people live with chronic pain and serious medical conditions that have no apparent cures or satisfying treatments. It is in response to these real situations that a growing number of proponents have advocated for the expanded use of medical marijuana.

Proponents of SQ 788 argue that many who suffer from chronic pain, opioid addiction and other medical challenges could benefit greatly from access to medical marijuana. Further study is needed to determine its real benefits. But, there are serious problems with the way this question is written.

It is not only a matter of what the question includes that can be problematic, but also what it does not include. Thirty states have approved medical marijuana. Every one of them has a list of qualifying ailments for which a prescription for medical marijuana can be written.

There are none listed in the Oklahoma measure, which explicitly states, “There are no qualifying conditions.” The bar is set unreasonably low as to what medical conditions would qualify someone for a medical marijuana license. There is no bar at all! All that is required is for an “Oklahoma Board Certified physician” to write a recommendation that states a medical condition warrants such a license. While it may not be the intent, this language is so broad that even a veterinarian could write the recommendation.

This measure raises a whole host of other questions that must be seriously and thoughtfully addressed.

What about the risks to public safety posed by drivers impaired by marijuana on our roads? What about the impact of licensed marijuana users in the workplace? What about licensed marijuana users smoking in public places? Even though a person must be 18 to obtain a license for medical marijuana the amount that one could legally possess could easily be diverted to younger consumers.

The number of unintended harmful consequences to this well-intended measure far outweigh the potential benefits.

There is need for further study to determine the real benefit of medical marijuana as a means of alleviating pain and improving certain medical conditions. SQ 788 will not advance that body of knowledge. It is a bait and switch proposal. While proposed as a vote on medical marijuana, it is written so broadly as to be little more than a thinly veiled referendum on recreational marijuana.

The social, spiritual and human consequences of such a step would be devastating. I don’t think Oklahoma is ready to go there.

Please consider this measure carefully.

To view a sample ballot for all areas of the state, go online to the Oklahoma State Election Board at and click on “view sample ballots.”