A recent NewsOK.com story noted that Oklahoma ranked twelfth per capita among states in the number of people who died from alcohol poisoning over a two year period.
It was a typical “reportitis” story, which means it summarized yet another negative report about the state, an occurrence all too familiar to people who live here and want to improve the quality of life in Oklahoma. In all, 37 people died directly from alcohol poisoning here from 2010 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number, of course, doesn’t account for other types of deaths caused by alcohol, such as cirrhosis of the liver or in car accidents when drinking impairs a driver. It also doesn’t include drug-alcohol combination overdose deaths when drinking contributes to bad decisions about ingesting pain pills. Oklahoma has as much of an over-drinking problem as it does a prescription drug overdose problem.
All these factors about the relationship between drinking and needless deaths are well known. Yet liquor stores do business as usual. I’m writing this on a Friday. Most liquor stores will be busy or busier until the state-mandated closing time of 9 p.m. today. Most people, of course, do drink responsibly, and if drinking helps to relax people during a weekend after a week at work or enhances their lives, then so be it. Wine, after all, has been around for thousands of years. Drinking alcohol is pretty much intrinsic to life and the human experience.
What does bear pointing out, though, against this information is that there has not been one recorded death from marijuana “poisoning” in history nor does cannabis lead to cirrhosis. In fact, marijuana has medicinal value as well, according to droves of people and some medical experts.
That information doesn’t seem to faze Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, pictured right, who recently filed a taxpayer-funded lawsuit against some aspects of Colorado’s new marijuana legalization law. Pruitt wants to shut down that state’s marijuana cultivation and distribution system because he claims some of the pot is making its way into neighboring states, including Oklahoma. In essence, he wants the federal government to step in and shut down what Colorado voters approved in 2012.
I criticized Pruitt’s lawsuit decision here because he’s not fully proven that Colorado marijuana is flooding into Oklahoma, where it remains illegal, or that it presents any sort of problem if it is. I also criticized the decision because it contradicts Pruitt’s obsession with states’ rights when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, which he opposes with a legal vengeance.
So let’s add this further criticism about Pruitt’s decision: It’s widely established in the health care and scientific community and to those people who just believe in common sense that marijuana is less harmful physically to people than alcohol. (I’m not saying pot is completely harmless.) One might argue that pot is a gateway drug or that it’s often combined with alcohol in abusive ways, but it’s not as bad for you—in the strictest bodily sense—as drinking alcohol.
This is yet another reason why Pruitt’s decision is baffling.
Another interesting point to stress in this argument is that even if it’s true that Colorado-cultivated marijuana is making its way into Oklahoma for use or sale then at least the pot is NOT coming from a violent drug cartel. It removes a major criminal component from the use or sale of pot here. Wouldn’t it be better for Oklahoma, in general, that its pot comes from a legal, regulated market than from a bunch of armed criminals who also sell harder drugs like crystal methamphetamine and heroin?
Better yet, why not just at least decriminalized marijuana here and take care of the matter entirely? Right now, 27 states and the District of Columbia have legalized or decriminalized marijuana to some extent. Alaska and Oregon recently joined Colorado and the state of Washington in full legalization of cannabis.
Obviously, there is a growing trend in this country to legalize marijuana, which makes Pruitt’s lawsuit seem even more pointless and misguided. Alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related deaths here are a far more important issue than meddling in the marijuana law of another state.
Oklahoma experienced more 3.0-magnitude or higher earthquakes last year than it did in the past 30 years combined, as reported by the Tulsa World, but don’t expect much action on the issue by state or local governmental authorities.
Those 567 earthquakes helped to make Oklahoma the leader now among the lower 48 states in earthquakes, a new dubious and weird distinction that not only threatens the welfare of the state’s residents and property but also tarnishes the state’s national image. Tornadoes AND earthquakes? People will flock here in droves.
As scientists have argued for some time now, the reason for the dramatic surge in earthquakes can be found in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom here that has led to a world glut of oil and gas.
In the fracking process, water laced with toxic chemicals is injected into rock formations, which release fossil fuels. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure underground into what are called disposal or injection wells. Scientists believe the injection well process causes instability or shifting along fault lines triggering earthquakes.
Oklahoma has experienced a fracking boom in recent years, but the boom here and elsewhere has led to an oversupply of oil and gas, driving down prices and slowing production. This slowdown, which was predicted and easily foreseen months if not years ago, has already negatively impacted the Oklahoma economy.
Let’s be clear: The state’s boom and bust cycle is based on making money not on sensible state and national energy policies. The modus operandi for oil and gas companies has always been and will always be to get as much money as they can when they can and then let the public and their laid-off workers deal with the aftermath in terms of economic and environmental duress.
Meanwhile, many Oklahomans have had to adapt to the new earthquake reality, which means spending more money on home insurance and, at least for some people, living in fear that a major earthquake will destroy their property or cause them bodily harm. In May, the U.S Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey issued a warning that another major earthquake of 5.0-magnitude or above is a real possibility in the state.
A 5.6-magnitude earthquake rumbled near Prague in 2011 causing property damage. It seems inevitable that the lack of governmental regulation and the basic greed of the oil and gas industry will lead to another larger earthquake here again. The question is one of liability. The oil and gas industry, as a collective whole, has argued in the past that there’s no definitive proof that the injection well process causes earthquakes, but the evidence mounts against this position.
A study published in Science last summer offered probably the most clear evidence so far that the injection well process has caused Oklahoma’s surge in earthquakes. A co-author of the study called the rise in earthquakes here “unprecedented.” The study argues that injection wells could lead to earthquakes a long distance away from their sites and throughout the state.
Government officials here have done little on the national, state or local level to deal with the issue. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission has required injection well operators to keep more detailed records but the idea of a moratorium on such wells has never been really considered. The oil and gas political lobby remains a powerful force in Oklahoma.
As I’ve argued in the past, it will probably take a major earthquake that causes massive damage and injuries before government officials and the political establishment here are forced to take action. That doesn’t mean citizens should remain silent about the issue, but it is a cause for frustration and incredulity.
Overall, the larger solution to the problem and other problems caused by the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is the continued development of renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power.
(DocHoc, pictured right, wears a sinister hoodie.)
A problematic and controversial bill that would ban people from wearing hoodies in public in Oklahoma is slated to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.
In its current form, Senate Bill 13, sponsored by state Sen. Don Barrington of Lawton, would make it illegal to “intentionally conceal his or her identity in a public place by means of a robe, mask, or other disguise.” The bill also would make it a crime to conceal one’s identity during the “commission of a crime,” but apparently that’s already illegal in the state. Violators of the new law would face a fine up to $500 and/or one year in a county jail.
The draconian fine maximum amount and possible jail time for just wearing a particular piece of clothing in public are just part of the problems with the bill. As various media outlets have observed, the bill seems primarily aimed at people wearing hoodies, a garment worn commonly by younger males in our culture, especially in the African American community. In essence, under one argument, the bill, then, could make it at least implicitly legal for law enforcement officers to profile people on an ethnic basis.
Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was shot to death in Sanford, Fla. by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, in 2012. Martin was unarmed and wearing a hoodie when he was killed. At the time, the hoodie took on symbolic value as prominent people, such as NBA star LeBron James, wore hoodies as they brought public attention to the case. Zimmerman was later acquitted of any wrongdoing.
According to media reports, various government entities and businesses throughout the country have similar laws and restrictions, which target hoodies in particular.
The bill allows for a number of exceptions, including Halloween and masquerade costumes, but that just points out the difficulty in trying to implement such a broad restriction in what people can wear in public. For example, the bill also exempts “those participating in the parades or exhibitions of minstrel troupes, circuses, sporting groups, mascots or other amusements or dramatic shows.” What about people who dress outside of gender constraints? What about people who want to wear a hoodie to just stay warm?
The bill further stigmatizes the hoodie as something sinister when, in fact, it’s just a simple piece of clothing. Here are some hoodies with the Oklahoma City Thunder brand offered for sale on the internet. Will it be illegal to wear a Thunder hoodie in Bricktown before or after a game? How can police enforce the law in some situations but not in others? That’s probably unconstitutional.
Yet the biggest problem with the bill, as I mentioned, is its potential to lead to even more racial profiling of young black males and selective enforcement of laws.
The session hasn’t started, of course, and this bill could change in the coming weeks, but it seems like an overreach at this point. Obviously, criminals often disguise themselves as they commit crimes, and that’s wrong and should be illegal, but staying warm outside on a cold evening or just trying to be stylish with some Thunder gear shouldn’t be against the law.