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House Approves Caveats to Voters' Decision to Make Drug Possession a Misdemeanor in Oklahoma

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Oklahoma voters decided in November drug possession should be a misdemeanor, but state representatives passed a bill Thursday saying it may be a felony in certain circumstances.

House Bill 1482 says drug possession within 1,000 feet of a school or in the presence of a child under 12 may be a felony. Purcell Republican Tim Downing said Oklahomans didn’t know what they were voting for.

"If they had voted on drug-free school zones and said, 'Yes, we want them gone,' I'd have said, 'OK. We'll honor that.' Just like we honor everything else that was written there," Downing said.

Supporters said the enhancements are necessary to shield children from witnessing drug use. Rep. Emily Virgin said kids can’t see drug use three football fields away.

"To add to that, you could be in your house, and that possession of a drug could be a felony under this law, which flies in the face of the voters saying, 'We don't want drug possession a felony,'" Virgin said.

Oklahoma City Democrat Forrest Bennett said the 1,000 foot enhancement makes 14 percent of the city a felony zone.

"In my district, there's a good chance if you get stopped for simple possession, you're going to get a felony instead of a misdemeanor under this law," Bennett said. "That means that if this bill passes, there's a greater chance more mothers will go to prison instead of being rehabilitated."

Bennett said the same would hold true for 21 percent of Tulsa.

Under HB1482, a first felony offense could mean up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine. Subsequent offenses could mean up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The enhancements don’t apply to anyone under 18, full-time students at a school within the prohibited distance or when a traffic stop brings someone within 1,000 feet of a school.

The bill passed 51–38 and heads to the Senate.