Former Health Department attorney files lawsuit against Unity Bill
An attorney who resigned from the Oklahoma State Department of Health filed a lawsuit Tuesday against her former state agency, claiming Oklahoma’s new medical marijuana regulations are unconstitutional.
Julia Ezell filed the lawsuit on behalf of Leslie Ann Collum, a registered nurse and owner of an Oklahoma City medical marijuana dispensary. Collum’s lawsuit has requested an injunction stopping enforcement of House Bill 2612, also known as the Unity Bill, which Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law last week.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols and Rep. Greg McCortney co-wrote the bill to provide regulations for use and sale of medical marijuana in Oklahoma.
The lawsuit names Interim Commissioner of Health Tom Bates, the Health Department and the State of Oklahoma as defendants. The Health Department declined to comment on pending litigation.
Ezell, of Edmond, served as the top attorney for the Health Department until she resigned last July amidst criminal charges. Felony and misdemeanor charges are still pending against her in Oklahoma County for reportedly sending threatening emails to herself and lying to investigators.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations conducted a forensic analysis of her cellphone, which reportedly showed she sent several threatening emails regarding medical marijuana to her own government email address.
Ezell and Collin W. Rockett are listed in the lawsuit as attorneys with CannaLaw Group in Oklahoma City. The firm was founded in February and exclusively handles cases for medical marijuana businesses and patients.
The lawsuit argued the Unity Bill is too vague with the disciplinary powers it gives the Heath Department. The bill lists a number of specific reasons the department could take disciplinary action against a medical marijuana business licensee, with the final provision being “any other basis” for action that the department identifies.
Disciplinary actions could include revocation, suspension or denial of an application, license or final authorization along with “other actions” the department deems appropriate, according to the bill.
The lawsuit also claims the Unity Bill violates due process, as Collum is “unable to adequately determine what acts will subject her to loss of her business license and to be able to defend against the same.”
Collum, the owner of Painted Nurse Cannabis Consultant, is also suing on grounds of equal protection. She stated she has a medical and physical disability necessitating her use of a medical marijuana patient card.
Under the Unity Bill, her employment as a nurse could be at risk if she tested positive for marijuana. The law designates certain job positions as “safety sensitive,” those being positions an employer reasonably believes could affect the safety and health of the employee or others.
Safety sensitive jobs include handling hazardous materials, operating power tools, firefighting duties and direct patient care. An employer could refuse to hire, discipline or discharge a “safety sensitive” employee for a positive marijuana test.
“The issue we have with that is you can test positive for THC for weeks after you actually consume it,” Rockett said. “It’s not an indicator that the person is intoxicated while they’re on the job, which is the purpose of the safety sensitive position. The language is going to catch a lot of people up when they use their medicine even if they don’t use it at work.”
Ezell was drafting emergency medical marijuana regulations herself when she resigned from the Health Department. The Unity Bill will provide the state’s framework for medical marijuana regulations, taking the place of the department’s emergency rules.
Rockett said he and Ezell hope the lawsuit reaches a judgment preventing the state from enforcing the portions of the Unity Bill they find unconstitutional. Callum is also requesting compensation for reasonable attorney fees.
“We are about this industry thriving and patients getting the medication they need without having to jump through a million different hoops,” he said. “We feel that if it’s going to be done it needs to be done right.”