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OUT WEST ROUNDUP | Oklahoma awards first medical marijuana patient licenses

Author: Associated Press - September 7, 2018 - Updated: September 24, 2018

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In this July 10, 2018, file photo, medical marijuana supporters hold signs outside of an Oklahoma Board of Health meeting in an overflow room in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)In this July 10, 2018, file photo, medical marijuana supporters hold signs outside of an Oklahoma Board of Health meeting in an overflow room in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma awards first medical marijuana patient licenses

OKLAHOMA CITY — More than 1,600 people and businesses applied for Oklahoma medical marijuana licenses on the first day that applications were made available.

The online application system went live in late August at www.OMMA.ok.gov for all potential medical marijuana patients, growers, dispensaries, processors and caregivers. Oklahoma State Department of Health spokesman Tony Sellars said that by the first evening, the agency had received 1,054 patient, 634 business and three caregiver applications.

Officials awarded 23 licenses to patients to test the approval process and planned to resume approving applications after the weekend, Sellars said.

Sellars added that the state collected $1.5 million in application fees the first day.

The applications must be made online and cannot be submitted at state or county health offices. Residents needing computer access are encouraged to visit a public library or ask a friend or relative for access.

In June, voters approved a statewide ballot measure authorizing the use of medicinal cannabis in Oklahoma.

THE WEST

Red-state voters look to expand Medicaid this fall, despite Trump’s enduring hostility

Even as President Donald Trump launches new attacks on the Affordable Care Act, voters in four deep red states are poised this fall to expand access to government Medicaid coverage through the 2010 law.

Nebraska in late August became the fourth state to qualify a Medicaid expansion initiative for the November ballot, giving voters there the chance to do an end-run around the state’s Republican political leaders who have fought the health care law for years.

Similar measures have already qualified in Idaho and Utah, where GOP officials for years have resisted Medicaid expansion, and in Montana, where a Medicaid expansion begun in 2016 is slated to sunset next year unless the state moves to extend it. Polling in the states shows widespread public support.

“Health care is the most powerful force in politics today,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project, a liberal activist group that is helping fund the Medicaid expansion efforts.

The unprecedented number of Medicaid ballot measures underscores the enduring popularity of the half-century-old government health insurance program for the poor, which — along with the related Children’s Health Insurance Program — now covers more than 70 million Americans.

The state initiatives also represent another challenge to the president and his GOP allies in Congress, who continue to champion moves to roll back the law and the sweeping coverage gains it has made possible.

Medicaid is a pillar of the 2010 law’s program for guaranteeing coverage, and it has helped drive a historic drop in the nation’s uninsured rate. Surveys indicate that at least 20 million previously uninsured Americans have gained coverage since 2014, though polling suggests the coverage gains have slowed or even reversed since Trump took office.

The law makes hundreds of billions of federal dollars available to states to extend Medicaid coverage to poor adults, a population that had been largely excluded from the safety net program.

Many Republicans have argued that the program is unaffordable and ineffective, though a growing body of research shows Medicaid significantly improves poor Americans’ access to vital medical care.

Stonewalled in conservative state legislatures around the country, Medicaid supporters have instead found a receptive audience among voters.

The signature-gathering campaigns to get Medicaid-expansion measures on the ballot in Idaho, Montana, Utah and Nebraska delivered substantially more signatures than were needed. And organizers said they had little trouble finding supporters.

Toni Lawson, vice president for government affairs at the Idaho Hospital Association, said proponents have stressed that the state is losing millions in federal tax dollars by not expanding coverage. “That message resonates with Republicans and fiscal conservatives,” she said.

The political tide is now so strong, in fact, that Nebraska’s Republican governor, a longtime foe of Medicaid expansion, has not publicly opposed the Medicaid measure, and the two GOP politicians vying to be governor in Idaho next year have signaled they will abide by the results of the initiative there.

NEW MEXICO

Confederate markers removed from New Mexico rest areas

SANTA FE — The last remaining memorials to Confederate President Jefferson Davis have been removed from New Mexico rest areas along Interstate 10, the main east-west route across the state, New Mexico officials have said.

The state Department of Transportation announced last week all memorials to the U.S. Civil War-era Confederacy were removed after people posted messages about them on social media, The Santa Fe New Mexican reports .

The move comes amid a national U.S. debate over removing the names of Confederate leaders from public roads and buildings.

Opposition to plans for removing a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, for example, spurred a violent rally of white supremacists that left one anti-racist demonstrator dead.

Davis’ name has become part of the landscape across the South and, for a time, even in New Mexico. But New Mexico has tended to celebrate the Union’s leaders.

New Mexico was the site of the Battle of Glorieta Pass, when Hispanic Union soldiers beat back the Confederate Army.

It is often called the “Gettysburg of the West.”

New Mexico also has counties named for Abraham Lincoln, Schuyler Colfax, Ulysses Grant, Jose Francisco Chaves and Joseph Calloway Lea.

NORTH DAKOTA

Opponents of refinery near national park question developer’s veracity

BISMARCK, North Dakota — Opponents of an oil refinery planned near Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota are imploring state regulators to give them a chance to explore whether the developer is being truthful about the project’s size.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Dakota Resource Council filed the request with the Public Service Commission, arguing that it’s the commission’s duty to “determine whether Meridian’s new claim is credible.”

Meridian Energy Group maintains it doesn’t need a state siting permit from the commission because the $800 million Davis Refinery planned 3 miles from North Dakota’s top tourist attraction will have a capacity of 49,500 barrels per day — just below the 50,000-barrel threshold that triggers a state review. However, the company previously gave a 55,000-barrel figure to the media, investors and government officials.

Meridian has maintained that the 55,000-barrel figure came from as far back as 2 ½ years ago and is outdated.

The environmental groups question whether the statement is “linguistic gymnastics” and whether Meridian is planning a “bait and switch” in which it builds a refinery and then applies for permission to expand beyond the state threshold after the plant is already in place.

MONTANA

Montana governor stands by semiautomatic weapons ban comment

HELENA, Montana — Montana’s governor is standing by his recent comments that he’d support a ban on some semiautomatic weapons, saying last week that it’s one of several measures that should be considered to curtail gun violence.

The two-term Democratic governor, who is considering a 2020 presidential run, first voiced his support for a weapons ban during an interview on CNN. Gov. Steve Bullock held a news conference days later and clarified his position: No taking away weapons from law-abiding gun owners and no ban on semiautomatic weapons that are conventionally used by hunters.

“When I view an assault weapons ban, it’s sort of military, semiautomatic, typically removable clips, a magazine of 10 or more — it’s like the AR-15s,” Bullock said of the rifle that has been used in several mass shootings, such as the one earlier this year at a Parkland, Florida, school shooting where 17 people died.

Bullock said gun violence should be looked at as a public health crisis and that he wants a conversation on a range of restrictions that would make schoolchildren and communities safer. They include universal background checks, cracking down on straw purchases of weapons, banning bump stocks and passing so-called red-flag laws that allow a court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to firearms.

Montana Republican Party chairwoman Debra Lamm said the state’s residents are now seeing Bullock for the “gun-grabbing liberal” he really is after he spent years promising that he would protect gun rights.

Gun control advocates praised Bullock for supporting a ban and other policies.

“I’m hopeful the Montana state legislature will follow Gov. Bullock’s lead and pass common-sense laws to keep our families safe,” said Kiely Lammers, who heads the Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Associated Press

Associated Press