Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Former Mental Health Commissioner Terri White co-chairs 'Protect Our Kids NO 820' effort

There seems to have been precious little as far as campaigning for or against the upcoming recreational marijuana state question (unless it's been TV... which I rarely watch). We received our first mailers on the issue in the past week, both of which from the 'Yes' side. I certainly hope the 'No' campaign gets its act together, gets the word out, and that voters reject SQ 820.

Terri White to Co-Chair Protect Our Kids NO 820
Former Commissioner of Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to Lead Coalition with Governor Frank Keating

Citing her expertise in the field, former Governor Frank Keating welcomed Terri White as co-chair of Protect Our Kids NO 820 today.  “Having served in both Democrat and Republican administrations, Terri White knows substance abuse shows no partisan allegiance,” Keating stated.  “I can think of nobody in Oklahoma who knows more about this issue or who has done more to help prevent, treat and defeat the scourge of addiction in our state than Terri White.  I am honored to work with her,” Keating stated.

White served as Commissioner of ODMHSAS for more than 12 years and as Secretary of Health during the Brad Henry administration. Since leaving ODHMHSAS in 2020, White has been the CEO of the nonprofit Mental Health Association Oklahoma through which approximately 30,000 Oklahoma a year receive life-saving services when they need it the most.

White has been a longtime advocate for strong brain health. Her opposition to 820 is based in science. Marijuana, particularly the high content THC marijuana of today, has health risks for all brains - particularly developing brains in youth and young adults and those vulnerable to addiction. “Oklahoma already has high rates of mental health and substance use issues and the door to get into treatment is too narrow. We cannot in good conscience exacerbate this problem; we must protect our youth and young adults,” White said.

The science is clear that high content THC marijuana has been associated with an increase in suicidal ideation, the onset of psychosis, and the activation of addiction circuitry especially in brains under the age of 25 where the prefrontal cortex is not yet fully developed.  “To present this state question as anything other than what its biggest consequence will be - causing increased mental health and substance use issues among our most vulnerable Oklahomans - ignores decades of research and scientific evidence and is disingenuous at best,” White said.  There is a reason big tobacco companies are rushing to join big out-of-state marijuana companies in campaigns to legalize marijuana - they know that addiction breeds addiction and fuels all their profit margins.  

White asserts that marijuana use and cannabis use disorder are healthcare issues and should be treated as such. Individuals should not end up in the back of police cars, the inside of a jail or a prison cell, but rather in treatment. White adamantly supports decriminalization while opposing legalization.  “Prevention science has shown clearly over the years that every time you legalize a substance, access to that substance increases for ALL ages. Period. As access increases so do the negative consequences and this state question offers little to no remedy or protections for all the harm it will cause,” White said.

On March 7, Oklahomans will decide whether or not to expand access to marijuana when they vote on State Question 820, an initiative petition largely funded by the ACLU and their affiliated entities. 

Protect Our Kids NO 820 is a broad-based coalition of Oklahomans including organizations such as Oklahoma Farm Bureau, The State Chamber of Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, The Oklahoma Chiefs of Police, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma District Attorneys’ Association, Oklahoma Faith Leaders, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, and others. 

Interested parties can learn more about the coalition at and


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