A lot has happened since Oklahomans passed State Question 788 on June 26 to legalize medical marijuana. A fight over administrative rules passed by the Oklahoma Board of Health drew broad criticism and resulted in two state employees losing their jobs.
In the weeks since, the Oklahoma Legislature’s joint committee on medical marijuana has met routinely, hearing presentations from law enforcement, health care trade associations, patient advocates and a smattering of leaders within the nascent medical marijuana industry.
While that final group previously had been divided on whether a legislative special session would be helpful in setting proper regulatory requirements, New Health Solutions Oklahoma distributed an Aug. 17 press release announcing a “unified” call for special session and a new draft of proposed legislation.
The press release listed leaders of Green The Vote, Oklahomans for Health and NHSO, noting that all were calling for a “limited” special session:
A limited special session would constitutionally take five days. The window of opportunity would be September 4th-8th and require the Legislature as a whole to be present for two days. Once the OSDH is required to issue licenses to commercial operations on September 10th, changes to the law will open our state up to lawsuits from license holders if the legislature waits to take action until after the licenses are issued. A limited special session will ultimately cost taxpayers less than these guaranteed lawsuits.
Now, halfway through NHSO’s proposed “window of opportunity,” it appears lawmakers will not be called back into special session any time soon.
By way of communications director Michael McNutt, Gov. Mary Fallin addressed the topic in a statement sent to NonDoc on Wednesday:
I have no immediate plans to call a special session on the subject of medical marijuana. The issue is very complicated, and it seems we’re discovering almost daily new issues on how to best implement medical marijuana, from safety to how federal regulations affect medical marijuana banking transactions and the financing and insuring of commercial property being used for marijuana growing or dispensary purposes. The Legislature’s working group on medical marijuana implementation is meeting weekly, and just recently announced it is establishing an email address for Oklahomans to provide their input. I applaud legislators for being thorough in gathering information to help them provide recommendations for legislation to clarify how medical marijuana will be implemented. Certainly, legislators need time to visit with all interested parties and listen to public comments to draft legislation to implement best practices for medical marijuana. Calling a special session before that would be premature.
To that end, legislative leaders met Wednesday for their seventh “working group” meeting, but it remains to be seen whether Republicans who lead the House and Senate would be willing to return to any special session ahead of the November general election, even if an agreement on legislative changes could be reached among a variety of parties.
Additionally, six more incumbent House members lost during the Aug. 28 runoff election, thus raising even more questions about the number of lame-duck lawmakers who would be willing to attend a third special session of the 56th Legislature.
The legislative email address accepting public comment to which Fallin referred is email@example.com.
Medical marijuana applications being submitted
While Oklahomans await the fate of a slow-moving legislative process, those attempting to sow seeds for marijuana businesses have been plenty busy. The same goes for potential patients seeking access to the drug.
How to apply for an Oklahoma medical marijuana license by Josh McBee
Applications for the various types of medical marijuana licenses became available for submission Aug. 25. Since, patient license applications have grown from 366 during the first hour of availability to 2,745 as of 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, caregiver applications grew from two in the first hour to 18 as of Tuesday, and overall business applications (dispensary, grower, processor) from 205 to 1,251 during the same period. (Data have been culled from daily tweets by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority’s Twitter account @OMMA, which has issued updated numbers since Aug. 25.)
OKC considers reducing marijuana punishment
The passage of SQ 788 certainly highlighted shifting public sentiment on marijuana as a whole, although polling has indicated that fewer than 50 percent of Oklahomans currently support full recreational marijuana.
Still, those changing attitudes can affect marijuana policy in other ways. For instance, Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty has proposed that Oklahoma City greatly reduce the punishment for possession of marijuana, as reported by KFOR Channel 4:
“The recommendation we’re making is to lower the fine of the possession of marijuana to $400 and it was set at a maximum of $1,200 and six months in jail,” Citty told the TV station. “By lowering it to $400, this allows us to basically take it out of that court of record trial and we’re able to assign citations for the possession of marijuana. Now, that will be if they don’t have a state permit or license that allows them to have it for medical use.”
The OKC City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal further at its Tuesday, Sept. 11, meeting, which will be live-streamed on the city’s YouTube channel.
Other municipalities mull local ordinances
While the state’s capital city serves as an epicenter for breaking medical marijuana news, the shock waves of change have evidenced themselves in other areas.
Most recently, trustees of the town of Luther held a special meeting Tuesday and removed restrictive ordinance language that had been drafted by the Town Board and attorney previously. Bans on locating dispensaries near parks, libraries, day cares and even on State Highway 66 were all considered too restrictive.
Likewise, in Muskogee, city leaders backed off a proposal in late August that would have placed stricter rules on home-grow operations than the rules outlined in State Question 788, as reported by the Tulsa World. Muskogee will still charge commercial medical marijuana operations with a $750 annual licensing fee, the World reported.
The World also reported that, unlike Muskogee and Luther, several municipalities have banned commercial growers and wholesalers as well as non-retail marijuana storage companies. Other restrictions in small towns include distance requirements from certain facilities. Likewise, in Ardmore, city councilors there unanimously passed 27 pages of new ordinances in mid-August that address several facets of medical marijuana, from growing to advertisements.