Appointed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in August, Adria Berry is the new director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, the state agency responsible for regulating Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program.
Berry is the fourth OMMA director since State Question 788 legalized medical marijuana in 2018. Her tenure begins at a difficult time for the OMMA as the agency grapples with a lawsuit from growers and questions about marijuana cultivation operations in rural parts of the state.
An attorney who graduated from the University of Tulsa College of Law, Berry comes to the OMMA after working in government relations for the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma. She previously worked in the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office and as vice president of government affairs for the State Chamber of Oklahoma.
In the following Q&A, Berry discusses her new job and the issues facing Oklahoma’s fast-growing medical marijuana industry. Answers have been edited lightly for clarity and style.
What things are you most interested in when it comes to your new job as director of the OMMA?
My highest priority is ensuring we have enough staff to meet the current demand within our state. Specifically, this means hiring more compliance inspectors, application processors and call center staff, but also ensuring we have the right leaders in place to encourage excellence amongst their teams. Staffing always plays an integral part in the success of any business or organization, and the OMMA is no exception. Hiring more high-quality inspectors, for example, will allow us to complete many more compliance inspections as we work to keep up with the booming industry.
Something else that’s extremely important to me is improving and strengthening our relationships with key stakeholders — and there are a lot of them — including many state agencies, trade organizations, all of our patients and businesses, and, of course, the state Legislature. A big part of further developing these relationships will rely heavily on transparency. Since OMMA is the regulatory agency, it just makes sense that we work to close the communication gaps between us and them. It’s for the good of our state that we all work together.
As you look at the months and years ahead, what do you see as the two or three biggest challenges facing the OMMA and the medical marijuana industry in the state?
There are several pressing issues the OMMA is facing currently that I think we will continue to face in the coming months and years.
Primarily, we need to focus heavily on inspecting all licensed businesses twice annually. As the number of commercial businesses increase across the state, the need for compliance with OMMA rules and regulations is crucial to ensure that all marijuana in our state is being grown, processed, marketed and sold in a compliant, legal manner.
Along these same lines, we want to work on improving our lab testing requirements and guidelines. We have heard from many industry professionals about the importance of having consistent and reliable testing standards for them as operators. Having these high standards in place will also act as a safeguard for patients.
Lastly, as we’ve all seen recently, medical marijuana touches every sector and every community. It’s absolutely vital that we collaborate better across sectors and with state and local governments so they are all included in the development of this industry.
There has been concern by both the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and some in the state Legislature about rural, transient grow operations that consume a great deal of resources but return little to those communities. In some cases, these operations may be illegal. What is the OMMA’s role in addressing those concerns?
While the OMMA regulates legal, licensed marijuana businesses, we will continue to work with the OBNDD and state and local law enforcement to find resolutions to these concerns. Again, I think it is critical for us to work across sectors to address how we as a state can meet the demand of this new industry.
Can you update us on the current situation with the state’s seed-to-sale system which has been impacted to some degree by litigation?
There is little change and little update I can provide, as it is still involved in ongoing litigation. I will say that once we can implement a statewide seed-to-sale system, I’m confident it will vastly and noticeably improve many aspects of the medical marijuana industry for our state — from patient safety to exposing bad actors who have cut corners in its absence.
Has anything about the rapid development of the industry in the state, and its relative popularity among patients, surprised you?
It is certainly intriguing to watch, but no, I am not at all surprised by the growth. Our state’s medical marijuana program is incredibly unique — both in its creation and in the explosive growth.
What would you want the public to know about you as an administrator?
I want the public to know I intend to work closely with all interested parties, not just in one area or with one group. It’s a new day at OMMA, and I am taking this opportunity to do a hard reset — from internal policies and putting proper staff in place to getting qualified compliance inspectors trained and out into all 77 counties in a timely manner. Be prepared to see real change that will help put this industry, patients and the citizens of Oklahoma in a better place overall.
And finally, I want the public to know that I will never deny that there are problems at the OMMA and will never make excuses for our past mistakes. However, I want readers to know that there are many dedicated public employees behind the scenes who have worked night and day since 2018 just to get the program started after the people of Oklahoma voted it into law. Improvement at the OMMA would not be possible without their dedication to the health and safety of all Oklahomans.