Medical cannabis groups trying to protect recipients of Medicaid, food stamps
The latest version of a draft bill touted as "unity" legislation among several medical marijuana advocacy groups would protect Oklahomans who receive state and federal benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.
There have already been attempts to curtail public assistance if the recipient tests positive for drug use, and advocates working on draft legislation wanted to make sure medical marijuana license holders aren't targeted, too.
"We've already had scares about (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) coming and taking guns, and we've had individuals who've expressed fear about having certain benefits denied," said attorney Rachel Bussett.
The draft bill includes language prohibiting state and local officials from restricting gun ownership and possession, a departure from federal gun laws that still considers marijuana use illegal.
Bussett's concerns about public assistance aren't unfounded. Oklahoma already requires a drug screening for applicants to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. Between 2012 and 2016, less than 3 percent of applicants tested positive.
She said the short phrase in a 223-page bill released last week would protect Oklahomans on TANF, WIC and Oklahoma's Medicaid program SoonerCare. Any kind of benefit that might require a drug test, she said, shouldn't have medical marijuana patients be implicated just for having the license.
"Medical cannabis should be treated in the same category as any other medication like opiates," she said, noting that there are no public benefit programs that disqualify recipients if they have an opiate prescription.
The proposed bill, which hasn't been introduced or claimed by any lawmaker, was revised in recent days to make it shorter and include more input from state legislators. It also includes language proposed by the business community that would make it easier for employers to ban marijuana use by employees.
Instead of the bill listing specific job types where a medical marijuana license would be inappropriate, the latest version simply gives employers the ability to create written policies for "safety-sensitive" jobs.
Entire sections giving the State Department of Health an ability to issue administrative orders and grant variances on medical marijuana licenses was scrapped for inclusion at another time.
"A lot of what was deleted was literally for saving space," said Bud Scott, a driving force behind the group of advocates and executive director of the trade group New Health Solutions Oklahoma. "There was a thought amongst the legislators that too much of a page count would be too imposing, especially in a special session."
Scott and other advocates are pushing for a short, limited special session in the next few weeks to adopt the bill. Legislative leaders seem hesitant, however, without commitment between Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate.
Gov. Mary Fallin also said there is more work needed, and more information to be gathered, before she would ask lawmakers to return.