The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority on Friday essentially reversed the emergency rules previously approved by the state Board of Health by releasing a new draft that, among other changes, would reinstate smokable medical marijuana sales.
The authority proposed undoing a ban on smokable products at dispensaries as well as removing limits on medical marijuana’s THC content following recommendations last week from Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter. It also removed from the draft a requirement that a pharmacist be in each dispensary during operating hours.
The new draft no longer has an explicit requirement that women undergo pregnancy tests before receiving a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana, nor is there a rule against dispensaries being open for business on Sundays.
Additionally, physicians who anticipate making recommendations would not have to show ongoing responsibility for care of a particular patient or register with the state Bureau of Narcotics before recommending marijuana.
On the business side, the authority removed a regulation that commercial applicants must post a surety bond before approval, and it is not mandating that prospective business owners submit to Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation background checks.
“I’m doing backflips” about the new draft, Chip Paul, a co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, said Friday. “If we get this voted in by the board, it couldn’t have been done better in my mind. It’s wonderful.”
The Board of Health will hold a special meeting Aug. 1 to consider the new draft. It is not legally bound to authorize it as written and can make changes during the meeting.
Oklahomans for Health, along with other activists who have since formed the Oklahoma Cannabis League, had involvement in crafting the text of State Question 788, which was passed by a majority of state voters June 26.
The measure gave the state Health Department the authority to create a regulatory office, now named the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, to handle receipt and approval of license applications, and it outlined the creation of a food and safety standards board.
Under the new draft of rules, minors seeking a license to use marijuana still would have to have two physician recommendations, but the new proposal removes a requirement that both be pediatricians or pediatric subspecialists who do not work together but still reach the same medical diagnosis.
The new draft no longer prohibits dispensary businesses from setting up shop with other commercial establishments, and such establishments would be able to sell products besides those related to medical marijuana, including items with marijuana symbols.
Licensed dispensaries also would be able to, if the rules are approved, sell marijuana seedlings and mature plants to patients. The law indicates that patients, once they receive a license, can legally possess seedlings as of Sept. 3 and mature plants beginning Oct. 26.
The OMMA is set to begin accepting license applications by Aug. 25 for patients, caregivers, researchers and commercial entities, including dispensaries, growers, processors and transporters. It released information Thursday afternoon outlining the requirements that must be met for each, although those requirements could be changed by the Board of Health or the state Legislature.
Board members were roundly criticized earlier this month for moving against their then-general counsel’s advice and including two last-minute amendments that banned sales of smokable medical marijuana and mandated that a dispensary manager, defined as a licensed pharmacist, be on staff at dispensaries.
Gov. Mary Fallin, despite signing the rules July 11, issued a statement a week later saying she believed the last-minute amendments should be rescinded because the public didn’t have adequate time to discuss them.
The smokable product sales ban, which hadn’t been in any drafts released before July 10, had been a demand of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, whose president, Jean Hausheer, told the Tulsa World on July 9 that the issue was “a line in the sand” for her organization. She did not rule out the possibility of legal action if the ban was not put into place.
The pharmacy requirement had been championed by Chelsea Church, who was terminated Wednesday from her position as executive director of the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy. She is the subject of an investigation into an allegation that she bribed Julie Ezell, the recently departed Health Department general counsel, with a higher-paying job if Ezell managed to include the provision in the emergency rules.
Church’s attorney has denied wrongdoing on her client’s behalf. Ezell faces a separate criminal case connected to claims that she sent herself false threats over the Health Department’s work on the emergency rules. Her attorney has said he and his client will cooperate in the pending inquiry into Church’s actions.
The Health Board’s handling of the rules appeared to prompt legislators July 12 to announce the creation of a bipartisan working group, which held its first meeting Wednesday afternoon and will meet every Wednesday for at least the next few weeks. The group heard policy proposals from four pro-medical marijuana organizations but cannot enact policy until either a special session is called or the regular legislative session begins next year.
Paul told the Tulsa World that he and other pro-medical marijuana activists met with Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates for several hours Thursday to “redline” issues in addition to those highlighted by Hunter in his July 18 letter to the Health Department. Among the remaining issues, he said, was a need to improve product testing requirements.
He said the changes discussed during that gathering are expected to be made public on Monday.
“We’re hopeful that we will have a wonderful law and the regulations under the law are workable,” Paul said. “I would hope they (the Health Board) are getting counseled to do the right thing here. They’d be in a jam if they chose not to approve these amendments, which have the AG’s recommendations in there, as well.”
The Board of Health, which is composed of gubernatorial appointees who serve nine-year terms, has rule-making powers only until January 2019, when a new law takes effect that empowers the board to serve only as an adviser to the health commissioner, who will receive the board’s powers and be a direct appointee of the governor.