Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, who attended both Muskogee and Hilldale schools, graduating in 1997, is a nationally recognized and in-demand speaker and researcher on cannabis and its medicinal effects in the human body. He studied medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, did his residency at New York University Medical Center in New York City and his fellowship at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He specializes in pain and symptom management, advance-care planning and integrative medicine.
Aggarwal, who describes himself as a physician-scientist and medical geographer, is a published researcher on the use of cannabis in cancer and palliative care and a sought-after speaker and researcher on the subject. He says a ballot measure on either the 2018 gubernatorial ballot—or a special ballot if Governor Mary Fallin chooses—would bring Oklahoma in line with the majority of the rest of the nation.
“If it passes, it will be one of the best laws in the nation,” he said. “Twenty-nine other states already have legalized medicinal cannabis.”
Oklahoma’s bill, drafted in 2015, did not make the 2016 ballot due to a legal fight after former Attorney General Scott Pruitt changed the description of the item that would appear on the ballot and the bill’s supporters sued. Over the summer, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that Pruitt’s changes unnecessarily confused the language and made the bill seem like it would be legalizing non-medicinal marijuana. The court ordered the language returned to its original state, describing the bill as supporting the legalization of doctor-prescribed medicinal marijuana.
Under the measure, patients would have to get a permit signed by a board-certified doctor, and dispensaries would have to be licensed by the state and subject to inspection by the board of health. Permitted individuals would be allowed to possess up to three ounces on their persons, and licenses would cost $100. Medicare, Medicaid and SoonerCare recipients would pay $20 for a license.
Possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana by non-licensed people would be a misdemeanor.
Muskogee’s history with marijuana is complicated, Aggarwal said.
“You’ve got that song,” he said, laughing. “But I actually have a picture of Merle Haggard’s medical cannabis authorization paperwork,” which he used toward the end of his life.
The point, he says, is that the view of marijuana is changing in the medical and legal communities, and it should be.
“Cannabis is easily the most ubiquitous, yet at the same time, most misunderstood, 37-million year old plant in existence today,” he said. “The global war on drugs has maligned and demonized cannabis and it has inhibited human, social, and medico-scientific development.”
Oklahomans will get the chance to vote on State Question 788 by 2018.