Medical marijuana trade group unveils bill to regulate Oklahoma market
Oklahoma City — A trade group for medical marijuana businesses says it has a foundation for lawmakers to start with as they prepare to meet Wednesday, but it's not clear if the model bill will gain traction.
New Health Solutions Oklahoma unveiled a 275-page sample bill it called the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act this weekend. Jed Green, the group's political director, said he hopes lawmakers will use it as a starting place in a special session to craft regulations for the medical marijuana market.
Gov. Mary Fallin initially planned to call a special session if Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana, but changed her mind after the June 26 vote. The Oklahoma State Department of Health was charged with crafting regulations, but their efforts have ended in a series of controversies.
The Board of Health approved 75 pages of regulations earlier this month, with two last-minute amendments to ban sales of smokable marijuana and to require dispensaries to hire pharmacists. Two groups of medical marijuana supporters sued, with one alleging the board violated the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act with secret discussions. Attorney General Mike Hunter told the board last week it had exceeded its authority with some rules, and board president Timothy Starkey promised it will sort out the issue at another meeting.
At the same time, the Health Department's former general counsel faces charges in connection with threats she allegedly emailed to herself, and the executive director of the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy is under investigation for text messages suggesting she offered the general counsel a better-paying job in exchange for the rule requiring pharmacists in dispensaries.
Green said passing a bill would address two problems: the board's limited authority, and the appearance that it prioritized the interest of medical groups over the voters who supported SQ 788.
“Even the good things they're trying to do, they don't have the authority to do it,” he said.
The model bill incorporates much of the framework the Board of Health approved earlier this month but takes out controversial points like the smoking and pharmacist amendments, a lack of protection for gun owners and limits on the percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It lays out rules for different types of marijuana-related businesses in far greater detail than the Health Department's regulations.
- Related to this story
- Article: AG agrees to advise Health Department on Rx marijuana rules
- Article: Former Health agency's top attorney charged after OSBI determines she sent threats to herself
- Article: Pharmacy board head allegedly offered official a job to sway marijuana rules
- Article: Q&A: Reporters field reader questions about cannabis
- Article: OSBI investigating Oklahoma Pharmacy Board executive director
- Article: Recreational pot initiative unlikely to make November ballot
- Article: Pharmacy official could be fired amid bribery allegations
- Article: Board could consider medical marijuana rules
- Article: Fired Oklahoma Pharmacy Board official may sue
- Article: Ban on selling smokable material, THC limits gone from draft
- Article: Former Health Department attorney pleads guilty
- Article: Medical marijuana group introduces sample Oklahoma bill
- Video: OSBI to investigate Oklahoma Pharmacy Board executive director's texts
Sen. Greg McCortney, an Ada Republican who co-chairs a legislative joint committee that will meet for the first time Wednesday, said the committee will consider the New Health proposal, but he doesn't know what direction members will want to go. The important thing is to come up with a workable plan as soon as possible, he said.
“I think we're all coming in pretty much open-minded,” he said.
Not everyone in the medical marijuana community is on board with the bill, though. Shawn Jenkins, a leader in the Yes on 788 political action committee, said he has concerns that the bill's requirements would be too strict for patients. It seems to be based more on the priorities of business owners, he said.
“There are definitely some considerations that we don't support, but there are some good things in it,” he said.
Jenkins gave the example of a $5,000 penalty for patients who grow their own marijuana if they “intentionally exceed” the statutory limit of six mature plants and six seedlings. He worries inexperienced growers could face a significant financial hit if one of their plants flowers earlier than anticipated.
“Does that person deserve a $5,000 fine?” he said.
Green said New Health met with a variety of stakeholders and tried to include their perspectives in the bill. He said he doesn't expect major pushback, except from certain medical groups that opposed SQ 788 and have tried to influence the development of regulations.
New Health is open to changes to its proposed bill, so long as they're done in a way that's transparent and don't get in the way of patients who could benefit from using marijuana, Green said.
“The one thing that cannot be compromised is the spirit and intent of 788,” he said. “It was created to accomplish affordable access to medicine.”
The proposed bill is available for download at NewHealthOklahoma.com.