Update: This story has been updated to include the announcement Tuesday of a special meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Health set for 3 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Central Office of the department of health.
A special meeting of the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy could decide the continued employment of its executive director amid allegations that she bribed an attorney in an attempt to influence medical marijuana rules.
The pharmacy board, in an agenda released Monday afternoon, said it will discuss “employment, hiring, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation” of Executive Director Chelsea Church, as well as the possible employment of an interim director.
The meeting will begin at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Oklahoma City. The agenda indicates that the matter will be discussed in executive session, with consideration, possible action and a vote taking place after the board returns to open session.
The OSBI confirmed to the Tulsa World on Friday that it received a request from the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office to investigate whether Church offered Julie Ezell, the former general counsel of the Oklahoma State Department of Health, a higher-paying job if Ezell managed to include in regulations to State Question 788 a requirement for pharmacists in marijuana dispensaries.
The investigation began within 24 hours of the posting of a story by Oklahoma City-based digital news website NonDoc, which released copies of text messages between Church and Ezell from a conversation they had the weekend before the state Board of Health’s July 10 meeting.
Church had not responded by Monday evening to multiple attempts to reach her for comment. In a phone call last week, Ezell referred comment requests to her attorney.
Church was among a group of medical industry leaders who took part in a press conference July 9 advocating for the Board of Health to impose strict regulations for SQ 788. She urged at that time for the addition of a rule, which wasn’t in the draft released to the public July 8, mandating that pharmacists have involvement in the process of dispensing marijuana to patients.
Other leaders, including State Medical Association President Jean Hausheer, demanded that the board approve a ban on sales of smokable marijuana and set a limit on the number of dispensaries allowed to operate in the state.
Ezell did not include the pharmacist or smokable sales proposals in the draft rules given to the health board, but two members moved to add them through last-minute amendments made against Ezell’s advice. The ban on smokable medical marijuana sales, proposed by board member Charles Skillings, passed with a 5-4 vote, while the pharmacist requirement raised by member Terry Gerard was approved 8-1.
Board Vice-President Edward Legako was the only person to vote against both amendments.
Gov. Mary Fallin signed the rules July 11 but has since called for the board to rescind the amendments, saying the public did not have adequate time to comment on them before their approval. Attorney General Mike Hunter sent a letter to Interim Commissioner Tom Bates on Wednesday recommending that the board convene a special meeting, writing that board members overstepped their authority when they authorized those and other policy-setting rules.
Board President Tim Starkey said in a statement that the special meeting will take place “as soon as possible.” Health Department spokesman Tony Sellars has said the agency will be able to meet its Thursday deadline to provide license application instructions and information online regardless of what happens with the emergency rules.
A special meeting of the board is set for 3 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Central Office of the department of health. A bipartisan working group of legislators assigned to handle SQ 788 regulations will have its first public meeting — also at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Oklahoma City — which will include a question-and-answer session with four prominent pro-medical marijuana groups.
Ezell sent an email July 13 resigning as Health Department general counsel, leaving Bates, COO Kim Bailey and a staff attorney to handle legal matters pending a replacement. She told Bates, “I’m so sorry,” but she did not elaborate on why she was resigning.
The Oklahoma County DA’s Office filed two felony charges and a misdemeanor against Ezell July 17 on allegations that Ezell sent false threats to her government email address over the Health Department’s work on SQ 788 emergency rules. She is also accused of providing false evidence about the emails to investigators.
OSBI public information officer Jordan Solorzano has said the investigation involving Church is separate from the still-open case against Ezell. Ed Blau, Ezell’s attorney, said his client will cooperate with the OSBI in the new inquiry.