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Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) Oktoberfest

The last day of Linde Oktoberfest Tulsa was Sunday and featured fair skies and temperatures in the high 70s. The German festival is held at Tulsa’s RiverWest Festival Park, on the west bank of the Arkansas River.

State has no labs licensed to test medical cannabis, despite law requiring proof of testing

A law that went into effect nearly two months ago states businesses can only sell medical cannabis products that have proof of testing.

But as of Friday, there are zero laboratories properly licensed with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.

“The law says (testing) needs to be done by strain and by an OMMA-approved lab. They have not approved any labs yet,” said Austin Miller, who owns Cloudi Mornings LLC, a grow facility in Broken Arrow. “You can take the same sample to as many different laboratories as you want and you’ll get a different result from every single one.”

OMMA laboratory program oversight manager Lee Rhoades said Friday that while the laboratory application process isn’t set to open until Nov. 1, businesses at this point should ensure products are tested for pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, bacteria, yeast, mold and potency, including terpenoids.

Melissa Miller, the OMMA’s spokesperson, said the agency will release emergency rules Nov. 1 that will better outline procedures for obtaining laboratory licenses, waste facility licenses and licenses for research and education.

Emergency rules that went into effect last month state that harvest batches for growers and processors cannot weigh more than 10 pounds. Such batches of flower must consist of a “uniform strain” grown, dried or cured under the same conditions, and it must also be harvested at the same time from the same location.

“These are being used for medicinal purposes. It’s called medical marijuana,” Rhoades said. “And by implication, there’s going to be people, for instance cancer patients, who may be susceptible more than the general public to feel effects from contaminants. We’re calling it medical marijuana and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure, as in anything else medical, to do no harm.”

Melissa Miller credited the OMMA’s staff with its ability to meet “pretty aggressive” timelines for implementation of State Question 788, subsequent legislation such as HB 2612 and the release of emergency rules as new laws take effect. But Austin Miller noted there is already a high ratio of licensed businesses to laboratories offering cannabis testing, which can cause lengthy delays for growers, processors and dispensaries.

As of Oct. 7, the OMMA has approved more than 200,000 patient applications. It has licensed 4,063 growers, 1,651 dispensaries and 1,168 processors as of the beginning of the month. There are only a handful of laboratories in operation in the state.

“Dispensaries are trying to be competitive with their pricing and also be compliant with everything,” he said, adding that tests can cost up to $375 per sample.

“I would like the state of Oklahoma’s left hand to know what the right hand is doing. It is blatantly obvious that they do not. I was working on a perpetual harvest to where I always had something going. But because they want a batch that’s 10 pounds and tested ... I’ve had to restructure (my grows) and pull 10 pounds at a time. It’s not really worth it unless I am.”

Kyle Felling, who owns F.A.S.T. Laboratories, said he offers “full service” testing and has licensing through the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. An Oklahoma Compliance Package” test costs $360, according to the F.A.S.T. Laboratories website.

Felling said he has tested more than 10,000 product samples and at this point averages a turnaround of between same day and five business days. However, he said he believes some of the guidelines labs have to follow are “vaguely written.”

“It kind of puts you in a little bit of a situation — is the testing legal or not if you haven’t been licensed by OMMA yet?” Felling said of the situation, adding that testing regulations vary widely among states with legal cannabis marketplaces. But despite the legal ambiguities, Felling said he has been able to adapt to what he called a “heavy workload” of samples to test.

“It’s no different than a restaurant having to deal with rush hours and being properly staffed to handle that,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest issue in a laboratory: being properly staffed but also having the equipment capacity to be able to handle all the samples.”

But Chris Moe, a patient advocate who helps lead the Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance, called the current testing landscape a “joke” and a “farce.” He said the limited guidance for laboratories and shops causes instability in the state’s medical program.

“We’re not serving the medical community right now,” Moe said. “Cannabis is a plant. It varies greatly from the bottom to the top. The only testing that’s working is heavy metals and pesticides. But when it comes to medicine, we need an accurate terpene profile and we’re still not getting that.”

Ryan Sheehan, who owns Whole Leaf dispensary in south Tulsa, said he started requiring proof of testing as a condition of carrying products in his store as soon as a laboratory opened in the state. He said patients often can’t afford to send products for testing post-purchase and that he has in the past refused to sell products if test results weren’t readily available.

“Because the state hasn’t laid our (license) applications yet, we just have to work with labs that are accredited in other ways,” Sheehan said. “But if you send the same sample to four different labs, you might get four different results. And that’s really odd. You shouldn’t. But somehow that’s happening, so some standardization would be really nice.”

Ethan Miller, a manager at Whole Leaf, said he hopes the OMMA bolsters its education efforts so businesses will be more familiar with what tests they need to have on hand as well as how to read results. Austin Miller, from Cloudi Mornings LLC, said he has had to work with an attorney in order to understand what to do so he can be in compliance.

“We see groups of people on Facebook who are asking questions about interpreting the law. They’re desperate because they’re trying to do their job right and they’re terrified of losing their licenses,” Ethan Miller said.


TPS prepares to launch improved enrollment system, allowing families to fill out a single application during one enrollment period

Confusion surrounding the district’s convoluted enrollment system has led Tulsa Public Schools to transform the process to make it easier for families to choose the right school.

The improved enrollment system, which launches in December, features a single enrollment period and allows parents to fill out only one application for all neighborhood, magnet and charter schools – except the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences.

TPS has fielded numerous complaints from parents about not knowing when to apply for which school due to the multitude of enrollment windows and applications across the district.

In the current system, there’s a different window for students transferring to a magnet school. There’s another for transferring to a neighborhood school. Others exist for prekindergarten and charters.

This has resulted in numerous missed deadlines and enrollment issues over the years, said Jorge Robles, the district’s chief operating officer. For example, if a family applies to transfer a student to a criteria-based magnet school during the appropriate window, they might not find out the application was denied until after the deadline to enroll at a neighborhood school.

“If you’re a family that, let’s say you’re new to Tulsa and you’re trying to understand what you need to do to enroll your kid and understand your choices and what you need to do for each choice, it’s really complicated,” Robles said.

Now all students will be enrolled during the same time frame, which is from Dec. 9 through Jan. 31 for the 2020-21 school year. They’ll also be able to choose up to six schools and rank them in order of preference. If they are unable to get into their first choice, then they automatically will be considered for their second.

With the limited availability at the district’s most popular sites like Booker T. Washington High School, Robles said the application will include a school finder tool to highlight the other choices.

“Right now our neighborhood schools don’t really have a mechanism to showcase themselves,” he said. “If you move to Tulsa, you’ll soon hear about the Booker T. Washingtons and Edisons of the world. This will be a fantastic opportunity for our neighborhood schools who have great programs to share information with families so they can see that they have strong options in their neighborhoods and that is something they might decide is best for their kids.”

The district also plans to host an informational expo in which representatives from every school will be available to answer questions in January.

Officials also sought to address another common complaint regarding the accessibility of the current enrollment system. Many parents, especially ones working multiple jobs, have struggled making it to the TPS Enrollment Center during hours of operation. Those unable to do so missed out on bilingual and other culturally relevant supports while trying to enroll their children.

Robles said there will be additional enrollment sites with expanded business hours during the 2020-21 period to prevent lack of access from being a barrier.

Not only is the improved enrollment system meant make the process easier for families, it’s supposed to help schools avoid last-minute enrollment fluctuations. Robles said it’s common for parents to not enroll their kids until late summer, with some waiting until the start of the school year.

“What’s critical about having a simpler, more straight-forward process is that we can enable families and educate them on how to participate during the window versus them not knowing and thinking it’s fine to show up the day before school,” he said.

Every student in the district should know where they’ve been accepted by mid-March.

There will be four information sessions, including one in Spanish, from Oct. 28 through Nov. 7 for parents and community members to learn more about the improved enrollment system.

The district also is partnering with the city to mail enrollment information to families via their water bills in December.


Oklahoma Watch: As new gun law approaches, seizures of firearms steadily rise in Tulsa, OKC

The number of illegally used or owned guns taken off the streets in Oklahoma’s two most populous cities continues to be on the rise.

Data from the Oklahoma City and Tulsa police departments show gun seizures are up in both cities as officials say a mix of added crime-fighting enforcement measures and the ever-growing number of guns, owned legally or illegally by Oklahomans, is contributing to the increase. This comes as authorities say they’ll be watching whether Oklahoma’s new permitless carry gun law, which is set to take effect Nov. 1, will prompt more seizures from those who carry a gun in violation of other restrictions, such as having a felony conviction.

“We are not specifically targeting guns by any means,” said Oklahoma City Police Department spokesman Capt. Larry Withrow. “But logic tells you that as more guns are sold, law enforcement will take more guns off the street as a byproduct of other crime enforcement work, especially when we are working high-crime areas.”

Law enforcement agencies nationwide routinely confiscate firearms at scenes of arrests, investigations, traffic stops and disturbances when a gun is used or displayed in an illegal manner. Typically, this occurs when ex-felons, prohibited from owning a firearm, are caught with a weapon or if a gun is used in a crime.

No uniform government database tracks how many firearms law enforcement groups take off the streets each year. But statistics from Oklahoma’s two major metropolitan police departments offer a glimpse into the volume of firearms confiscated. The firearms are destroyed after judicial approval.

The data provided by the Oklahoma City Police Department show the department has seen an uptick in the number of firearm seizures almost every year in the past decade. From 2010 to 2018, gun seizures climbed from 1,535 to 2,068 — a nearly 25% increase.

The bulk of the guns were handguns. Long guns, such as rifles, made up only about 20%.

The Tulsa Police Department tracks its numbers differently, making it difficult to compare the seizure rates between the cities.

Historically, Tulsa only recorded the number of firearms seized by its special investigations division, which includes its narcotics, vice, intelligence, gangs and crime gun units.

Harold Adair, a criminal intelligence analyst with the Tulsa Police Department, said its gun seizures have climbed significantly, rising from 234 in 2011 to 806 last year. Although this year’s number doesn’t look like it will top last year’s — as of Oct. 12, 412 firearms were confiscated — that number is still almost double the total confiscated in 2011.

Starting in mid-2017, the Tulsa department began recording the number of firearms confiscated from elsewhere in the department, such as from patrol officers, and entered into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ eTrace system. This still leaves out the revolvers, shotguns and some hunting rifles confiscated, but Adair said it gives a near-complete picture of the number of guns the department has processed.

When the eTrace and special investigations division numbers are combined, a total of 1,543 firearms were seized in 2018 and 1,070 guns were seized as of Oct. 10 this year.

Adair said part of the increase is due to the department increasing its anti-gang enforcement. But like the Oklahoma City department, he said more seizures are also due to more guns being legally bought and funneled into the black market or used illegally.

According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, nearly 333,000 Oklahoma firearm background checks were processed in 2018. While not a record, it is a more than 50% increase from the 221,600 checks ordered a decade ago.

The Oklahoma City and Tulsa police departments said they will be monitoring Oklahoma’s new “constitutional carry” gun law that takes effect Nov. 1 to see if the change affects seizure numbers.

Adair said it’s possible the new law, which allows Oklahomans over 21 to carry a gun without a permit, could embolden those who are barred from legally owning any gun, such as most ex-felons, to flaunt Oklahoma’s gun restrictions.

“(The new law) doesn’t say that just anyone is allowed to carry a gun now,” he said. “You still can’t carry a gun while being in possession of a drug, you can’t be a drug user and you can’t be involved in a crime.”

Both departments destroy seized guns rather than reuse or sell them at an auction.

“Our goal is not to put guns back out on the street,” Adair said. “Whatever we might get from the sale just isn’t worth it.”