A law that takes effect later this month has a provision allowing the Oklahoma State Department of Health to give law enforcement access to information displayed on medical marijuana patient licenses. But amid concerns about privacy and possible legal conflicts, a leading state lawmaker said he asked for a delay on implementation and expects the clause could be removed during the next legislative session.
Senate Bill 1030, whose primary author was Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, will become law Aug. 29. It establishes protocols for officers to issue citations for those in possession of marijuana who can cite a medical condition but do not have a license. It also defines what would be considered an “undue change or restriction of municipal zoning laws” for municipalities when they receive applications for medical marijuana businesses.
But the section that concerns patient advocates Lawrence Pasternack and Norma Sapp is a clause that states the OSDH shall make available “all information” shown on patient licenses to law enforcement through the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or OLETS.
Sapp and Pasternack, along with Chris Moe, recently formed the Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance advocacy organization and said they considered the bill one of their highest priorities for legislative changes. They called the provision “just about the worst thing that could possibly happen” for the state’s medical cannabis program, and Pasternack said it was “absurd” to give law enforcement access to information related in any way to patients’ health.
The OKCLA contends the bill in its current language opens the door for police using OLETS, which is used for interstate, intrastate and interagency criminal justice purposes, to tie patients’ cardholder statuses to their vehicle tags or driver’s licenses.
Oklahoma law considers a person to be in the commission of a DUI if there is any amount of a schedule I substance or its metabolites in their system, regardless of whether they are actively intoxicated. Sapp said, to her, that in effect means medical cannabis users will face legal risks each time they drive because “marijuana” is still included in the state’s legal definition of schedule I substances.
“That creates a problematic situation for law enforcement to know that person is a cardholder,” Pasternack said. “That should have been fixed last session, but it wasn’t. We’ve spoken with lawmakers who plan to fix it this coming session. But in the meantime, any cardholder or anyone just using hemp is violating the law when they’re behind the wheel.”
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said the intent of SB 1030 was for officers to have a way to verify the validity of patient IDs in person upon viewing a patient’s 24-digit ID code. He said he believed the current wording was “very confusing” and told the Tulsa World he asked the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority and the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety to hold off on establishing any data transfer at least until the next legislative session in February.
“I think we’re going to repeal that specific provision in its entirety,” Echols said, adding that at least some other lawmakers have expressed agreement on the issue. “I think it was never the goal that if you were pulled over in another state that information would be there. At a minimum, the law is in conflict.”
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority’s website states the agency is “currently evaluating implementation timelines” for making information accessible in OLETS. In a statement Friday, the OMMA said the health department is working with DPS “to balance privacy concerns regarding patient information as outlined in State Question 788 and the statutory obligation under SB 1030” to share data with law enforcement.
Echols said the information in question has not been shared with law enforcement entities as of Friday. DPS spokeswoman Sarah Stewart told the World via email that “we do not have much involvement in this other than we will actually be the store house for the data” and referred further questions to OSDH interim commissioner Tom Bates.
“Nothing in the law requires that information to be tied either to a driver’s license or the (license) plate itself,” he said. “There is nothing that requires OMMA or DPS under the law right now to do that. They have received very explicit direction from Rep. (Scott) Fetgatter, (R-Okmulgee) and myself at least that it is not the intent.”
Sapp said other portions of SB 1030 emphasize the importance of patient privacy and is hopeful the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office will issue an opinion outlining the duties of the OSDH and the OMMA.
“I’m not a lawyer, but it’s pretty clear: They are supposed to keep that private. If they gave that whole database to the OLETS system, it won’t be,” she said. A spokesman for Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office said the department hasn’t received any requests for an attorney general opinion related to SB 1030 as of Friday afternoon.
Echols noted lawmakers were able to roll out a medical cannabis framework faster than other states and said “you’re gonna have some hiccups” while trying to meet quick deadlines such as those written in SQ 788. However, he pointed out the OMMA already maintains a website where people can enter a patient’s ID code to determine whether a license is valid, which would likely render the provision in SB 1030 unnecessary.
Driver Impairment Awareness Day has locals smoking weed and driving