The “wild west” of medical cannabis might not be so wild should a group of seven Oklahoma House Republicans find a path to pass a package aimed at cleaning up the state’s program.
Headlined by Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols and Rep. TJ Marti, who chairs the chamber’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances Committee, a group of state lawmakers outlined a 12-point plan to better regulate Oklahoma’s medical cannabis industry during a press conference March 7.
The majority of that plan is directed at weeding out “bad actors” in the state, while patient safety and protecting Oklahoma farmers from liability are also at the forefront of the proposed bills, Marti said.
The seven-member House working group on medical cannabis—which also includes Reps. Rusty Cornwell, Scott Fetgatter, Kevin McDugle, John Pfeiffer and Jay Steagall—has spent months collaborating with fellow legislators, regulators, law enforcement and industry experts to come up with the plan, Marti said.
When Oklahomans passed State Question 788 via a 56.9% majority as an initiated statute on the June 2018 ballot, they voted for a legal medical cannabis “free-market program,” Echols said.
“The black market is not the free market,” he said during the press conference. “What is happening right now in the state of Oklahoma, and this is even more emphasized by the most recent largest illegal drug bust in the history of the state of Oklahoma … is we have seen black market elements competing with legitimate Oklahoma businesses. They are putting our citizens at risk. They’re doing things in an illegal, unethical manner. We know we have issues with human trafficking. We know we have issues with tainted product. And this is the House’s plan to do something about it.”
Marti piggybacked on those comments.
“We’ve worked diligently to create legislation that will deliver what the people of Oklahoma voted for when they voted for State Question 788—a safe, free, legal market that is regulated appropriated,” he said. “So, of our 12-point plan, nine of our [points] are directed to weed out the bad actors.”
Marti went on to outline that plan:
- Making the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) a standalone agency
- A grant program for sheriffs’ departments that will fund law enforcement efforts in every county
- Full implementation of a seed-to-sale system (which OMMA contracted Metrc for)
- Provisional licensing that will require inspections and increased documentation before approval
- Tiered licensing fees based on grow size to cover all costs of the state program
- Separate licensing for medical cannabis wholesalers
- All medical cannabis businesses must post a standardized permit outside their business to help assist law enforcement in recognizing who is operating legally
- Requirement for stringent electrical and utility usage reporting by growers to OMMA
- Annual inspections for grow sites, in addition to allowing OMMA officials to conduct unlimited inspections of any site
- Product packaging standards, including expiration dates
- Standardized laboratory equipment and testing procedures throughout the state
- Requirement that medical cannabis growers register as environmentally sensitive crop owners with the state’s Department of Agriculture and Forestry
Mari also pointed out that OMMA recently found middle ground with the state’s medical cannabis licensees in a class-action lawsuit filed last year, allowing the agency to move forward with contracting Metrc as the provider of the state’s tracking system.
The seed-to-sale system, combined with requirements to report electrical and utility usage to OMMA, will better allow the state to identify illegal activity, Marti said.
“We’ll be able to easily figure out who’s growing and who’s selling what they’re growing, and who’s selling less than what they’re growing,” he said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”
Also, while OMMA regulators recently have conducted as many as 300 inspections in one week, Marti said the proposed package would double the number of agents in the field doing on-site reviews.
Fetgatter went on to outline how the bill package would work with State Question 788 and build on legislation passed last session.
Specifically, Fetgatter mentioned House Bill 2674, which allowed OMMA to increase its inspectors from single digits to nearly 200 officers; HB 2272, which requires medical cannabis businesses to disclose foreign financial interests; and Senate Bill 1033, which allowed for memorandums of understanding between OMMA and other state agencies.
“Those bills last year had a large effect on … the illegal operations being shut down over the past year,” Fetgatter said. “These [proposed] bills combined with our work in the past year … work together to create a multifaceted approach to extinguish illegal grows in the state of Oklahoma. If you’re an illegal operator in the state of Oklahoma, your time is up.”