OKLAHOMA CITY — Each of the four pro-medical marijuana groups at the Capitol on Wednesday told legislators the state Board of Health overreached in its handling of medical marijuana rules and offered a range of regulations that are best for State Question 788.
A joint working group of 13 lawmakers held a public meeting to discuss what should happen next after the state question, which passed by a double-digit margin, takes effect on Thursday.
The new law gives a short timeline between voter approval and implementation, a feature noted by group co-chairman Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, in a spirited exchange with Chip Paul, a co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, during Paul’s presentation on his proposed rules.
“It seems like the average length of time to implement medical marijuana is a year. You gave us about 75 days,” McCortney said. “We’d love to ask you why.
“Was your intention that you just felt like you had to force the state to do this?”
Paul said it would likely be difficult to get large numbers of people to agree on the matter “before things get moving” and wanted “a mechanism in the law to make things continue to move.”
“It’s certainly doable and I know we gave you a short ticker,” Paul said. “But it’s serving its purpose isn’t it? It’s working.”
He called Oklahomans for Health, which had involvement in crafting the language of SQ 788, “truly a We The People movement” that should be taken seriously by the group.
“We want to get this right as much as you do. We passed that law. We know what that law needs to say,” Paul said.
The health board approved 75 pages of emergency rules in its July 10 meeting but in the process passed two controversial last-minute amendments that banned smokable marijuana sales and required on-site pharmacists at dispensaries.
Those changes, which hadn’t been made public in any draft rules, drew bipartisan outrage and prompted lawmakers to create the working group in order to “implement the will of the voters.”
Both were included against the advice of the Department of Health general counsel, who has since resigned and is charged with sending herself false threats over the agency’s work on the rules.
Attorney General Mike Hunter called last week for the board to hold a special meeting to amend the rules, saying it overstepped its authority when it authorized the amendments. The board will hold a special meeting Aug. 1.
Gov. Mary Fallin agreed that the amendments should be rescinded despite signing off on the rules July 11, noting the public did not have adequate time to comment about them.
Before the working group’s first gathering, New Health Solutions Oklahoma Executive Director Bud Scott released more than 250 pages of proposed regulations for legislators to review. The organization is a trade group that represents some cannabis industry entrepreneurs.
One of his recommendations, which he emphasized are negotiable, advocates for inspections of places where medical marijuana is kept, made, sold, transported, tested or distributed.
In response to a question from co-chairman Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, about such inspections in patients’ residences, Scott said homegrown products wouldn’t be subject to that rule.
The lengthiness of Scott’s proposed framework prompted Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville, to say, “This is very interesting to me” because SQ 788’s language, by contrast, is only five pages.
“We look at State Question 788 is a virtual skeleton,” Scott replied. “What we’ve attempted to do is … help fill out that skeleton in the form of skin, tissues, organs, et cetera.”
He said it’s essential for the Legislature to have involvement — and has called repeatedly for a special session — because there are still “landmines” in the rules created by the Department of Health that obstruct entrepreneurs’ ability to start businesses.
Scott’s proposed rules additionally call for an end to criminal prosecution for paraphernalia-related offenses and for law enforcement to return any marijuana seized from patients if a prosecuting agency determines no criminal case will be filed.
The state health board also approved a 12 percent limit on THC levels in medical marijuana products, upsetting advocates who say higher levels are needed to treat serious illnesses.
“The dream of America is not a whisper in Oklahoma, and if June 26 did not prove that, then you must be deaf,” Shawn Jenkins, a member of advocacy group Oklahomans for Cannabis, said.
In an emotional speech, he described the brain disorders his young son and daughter have and told the lawmakers in attendance they could feel relief if they had access to medical cannabis.
“You have an opportunity to be a hero for my kids and more than half a million people in the state of Oklahoma,” Jenkins said.
Isaac Caviness, leader of Green the Vote, said his group’s biggest fear is “over-regulation” of the law either by the Department of Health or by legislators.
Green the Vote and Oklahomans for Health are co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Department of Health over SQ 788 emergency rules.
Among the emergency restrictions that should be overturned, he said, are the smokable medical marijuana ban and provisions requiring women to have pregnancy tests before receiving a physician’s recommendation.
The latter has also drawn ire from ACLU Oklahoma, whose leader has suggested the group will initiate federal litigation if it remains intact.
Caviness also called on the Legislature to make the cannabis industry accessible for all, including people with felony convictions, and asked that there be no financial “means test” for people to obtain commercial licenses so “mom and pop shops” can be successful.
“A lot of the people that would be excluded from this are people who would be considered experts within the industry right now,” Caviness said of people with justice backgrounds that he said were the result of “the war on cannabis.”
Chris Moe, a Green the Vote member, said SQ 788 is viewed by Oklahomans as “an opportunity for the little guy to start a business. That’s how this is supposed to be set up.”
He urged the legislative working group to work quickly so the emergency rules can be replaced with a framework that helps patients and entrepreneurs.
The working group will meet each Wednesday, with the next meeting taking place at 9 a.m. They are open to the public and are live-streamed on the Senate website.
“Every day we wait, my phone continues to ring every morning from people who are suffering,” Moe said. “I’d like my phone to stop ringing. Please help me make it stop ringing.”