OKLAHOMA CITY —
Hickman also was an ally of former House Speaker Kris Steele, an outspoken opponent of the state's approach to criminal justice who spearheaded JRI during his last term in office.
"People like me are elated, because this is an issue that I think he gets, and gets in terms of more than just giving it lip service," said state Rep. Cory Williams, a Stillwater Democrat who has pushed for years to reduce the state's criminal penalties for marijuana possession.
Under current law, a second conviction of simple marijuana possession can result in a felony conviction and up to 10 years in prison. Williams said it makes no sense for the state to make a convicted felon out of someone for simple possession of marijuana.
"Felons can't vote. They can't cut hair. There's a whole list of things in the state of Oklahoma you can't qualify for if you've been convicted of a felony," Williams said.
Douglass Stallcup, a 49-year-old from Elmore City, said a felony conviction for selling pot in the 1980s has haunted him his entire life.
"I can't vote. It's messed my life up as far as getting jobs. If I get pulled over, they treat me like a parasite and always want to search my car," said Stallcup, who drove 100 miles with his wife and 16-year-old son to Wednesday's pro-marijuana rally at the statehouse. "It's pretty much ruined my life, and it's ruined a lot of other people's lives."
Still, the temptation for Oklahoma legislators to impose tough new criminal penalties for the latest high-profile crime proves irresistible every year. There are currently more than 300 active bills dealing with crime and punishment in Oklahoma, and many of those create new crimes or add more prison time to existing ones. Last year, lawmakers created several new felonies, including the cutting of someone's fence.