Despite ongoing concerns over federal drug laws, the Oklahoma House on Thursday easily passed a bill providing a lengthy regulatory framework for medical marijuana.
House Bill 2612 by House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, known as the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act, cleared the House on a 93-5 vote. It is now eligible for discussion in the Oklahoma Senate, where Sen. Greg McCortney — a co-chairman with Echols of the bipartisan legislative medical marijuana working group that worked on the bill — is the sponsor.
A summary of the measure indicates it would cost nearly $10 million to implement in its first year.
“Initially, I was a no vote. I have seen the damaging effects of abuse with marijuana and felt like it was detrimental to our citizens to have another way to hurt themselves,” Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, said of the state question that legalized medical marijuana. “But that being said: this is not recreational. This is medicinal. My concern right now is making sure that patients get the medicine they need.”
He and Echols maintained that the initiative — commonly called the Unity Bill — is not the final step in setting up regulations for the industry. In response to a question from House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, Fetgatter said he had spent “hours upon hours” with pro-cannabis activists to review the bill and come up with an agreeable structure.
The working group held 13 meetings last summer and fall, hearing from activists, law enforcement, banking and tax officials, business leaders and medical industry professionals.
Opposition to the effort came largely from Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City, who said he believed the effort “fell short” of upholding the will of voters who supported State Question 788 in June. Stone, one of the few “no” votes, said he was concerned the bill could give landlords the ability to discriminate against tenants who have medical marijuana licenses and wish to grow cannabis at their residences.
“There’s nothing in this bill that respects the rights of patients specifically as it pertains to medical marijuana. Is that correct?” he asked. The bill would require tenants to have written permission from landlords to grow on properties.
Fetgatter later said, “I think the landlord owns the property and that’s the property right issue for me.”
Stone also asked why, given obvious conflicts with federal drug and firearms laws, the bill has specific language enabling licensed patients to legally carry guns. Echols said last year that he would support legislation upholding the gun rights of patients, and Fetgatter said it was one of the largest concerns he heard in the bill creation process.
Thirty-three states, including Oklahoma, have some form of marijuana legalization. Echols said states such as Arkansas and Arizona, which have medical marijuana laws in effect, also have laws similar to Oklahoma’s permitless carry legislation.
“What we are doing in this bill is giving state law enforcement cover. They don’t have to enforce that federal law, and in fact voting no on this bill would not be giving them that cover,” he said. “Considering gun confiscations have not happened in recreational states, it’s unlikely the first gun confiscation would occur in the state of Oklahoma in a medical program.”
However, Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, said federal law enforcement still has the ability to prosecute otherwise law-abiding Oklahomans for such offenses. In a testy exchange that ensued, Fetgatter told Meredith he can “run a piece of legislation” seeking to bar patients from gun ownership if he chooses and later said he was “aware of the differences between state and federal government and what the 10th Amendment is.”
“I don’t know why we gotta go to that,” said Meredith, who ultimately voted yes on the bill. “I’m asking a serious question. I’m not against this bill and I’m not against guns. But I think it’s important that the people of Oklahoma realize and understand the importance of this.”