After Oklahomans voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2018, there was much talk about what changes to the new law would be made, as many voters and lawmakers have asserted that State Question 788 was too broad.
During the Oklahoma Legislature's regular session this year, several legislative changes to the law were passed with regard to both patients and businesses. State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, said the law as passed by the voters was not specific enough.
"Sen. [Ervin] Yen at that time had a bill that was a true medical marijuana bill, but a lot of the people that were promoting marijuana didn't like it, because they thought it was too restrictive," said Pemberton. "Well, it didn't pass and the ballot measure is just the opposite. It was so open that it's really almost not even medical marijuana. Now we're having to spend a lot of hours and time putting a lot legislation together to try to regulate the industry."
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act, otherwise known as the Unity Bill, was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in March. The bill augments SQ788, increasing regulations on medical marijuana testing, caregivers' ability to buy and deliver products, information shared by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, and many other facets of the cannabis industry. The changes will become effective Aug. 29.
While some of the new changes might impact consumers and growers, it appears as though they won't negatively affect dispensaries. "Matt," (identified only by first name to protect other business interests) from Lifted Spirits said many of the new laws will actually help him.
"A lot of [dispensaries] are doing the right thing and keeping up with all the compliant stuff, but I've seen some that are just blatant negligence - the avoidance of some of the regulations," said Matt. "Hopefully this will flush a little bit of that out, so that way we'll have legit businesses."
One of the new changes requires growers and processors to utilize licensed laboratories to test harvest and cannabis batches that are no greater than 10 pounds before any sale or transfer. Lifted Spirits does not currently grow its on products, so it outsources to growers. Matt said the dispensary typically does business with vendors who are already conducting full testing "before it's required, just so we're ahead of the curb."
"That being said, there are tons of growers and processors that we've talked to that seem like they don't even care to have their stuff tested," he said. "They don't want to pay the money, and even think that once the Unity Bill goes into effect, they still don't feel like they're going to have to test."
For the most part, Matt said there is nothing in the new laws "from a business standpoint" that would hinder the shop. He said the increased cost for processor and growers to test their product could drive up the cost for medical marijuana, but he figures that it would "eventually level out."
Bridget Barlow at Quahlity Buds said the outfit doesn't mind increased testing, as it helps the business and its customers know what is in its products. She agreed that the testing might increase the cost for cannabis, but she doesn't expect to affect them too much, because they try to find grower and processors that already test.
One new change will require dispensaries to use child-resistant containers. That doesn't bother Quahlity Buds, as Barlow said they've already begun transitioning to the new packing requirements and that the shop isn't opposed to keeping products out of the wrong hands.
However, some people are concerned about how the new laws might impact consumers. The Unity Bill creates a caregiver license, which gives caregivers the authority to buy and deliver products to a medical marijuana license holder. Matt said the caregiver's license might put an extra burden on people.
"It sucks for a lot of people who come in with their spouses or people that need someone to bring them in, because they can't get around that well," said Matt. "We've been telling them, 'Hey, you need to look into getting a caregivers license. That way you can have somebody with you or you can send somebody in on your behalf.'"
Senate Bill 1030 will require the OMMA to share information displayed on medical marijuana licenses with the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Telecommunications System. Many folks are concerned that the rule is a breach of confidentiality they were not aware of when they first signed up for their medical card.
"I've been doing applications for months and months and months," said Brook Rahe, from Quahlity Buds. "When people asked, 'Is this information classified?' I would say 'Yes,' because that's what it was. That's what made them go through with wanting to get their card. They felt safe with their information being just with me and the state, and now it's not."
Locals have also pointed out that information regarding people's prescriptions for any other type of medication are not accessible when they get pulled over by police. Matt from Lifted Spirits said the type of someone's medicine is not anyone else's business.
"There's a lot of people very upset about that," he said. "I 100-percent agree. I think that's absolutely ridiculous. I don't see the need for that - to have that information readily available."
In a Daily Press Saturday Forum, readers were asked for their opinion of the new rules and whether they should just be tossed out all together and replaced with recreational marijuana. Many of the participants said they'd prefer just to see cannabis legalized for recreational use.
"The OMMA is going to regulate medical marijuana til it's almost illegal again," said Cheryl Leeds. "I have been able to get off all antidepressants and pain meds thanks to medical marijuana. If it is legal recreationally, we can stop wasting taxpayers money on the OMMA and all their regulations, drop the enormous taxing of the products to support OMMA, and concentrate more on the actual illegal and addictive street drugs and illegal sales of pharmaceutical drugs."
Other were concerned about information being shared with OLETS. Andrea Chaffin said she thinks the rule to share the information will be "struck down."
"If they don't share pain prescription patient's info then they shouldn't be able to share this," wrote Chaffin. "I am not a MM cardholder or user, but it seems to step over the line in my opinion."
In an online poll on the Daily Press website, readers were asked if they think recreational marijuana should be allowed? Among the 90 respondents, 12 said, "No; in fact, I don't like the medical marijuana use." 16 respondents said, "No, but I'm fine with medical marijuana, as long as restrictions are in place." The largest response came from 45 readers who said, "Yes, and it should be treated exactly like alcohol, with penalties for driving under the influence, and employers should be allowed to terminate anyone using on the job." Meanwhile, 11 said, "Yes, and it should be treated like cigarettes; though one could drive or work while using, non-users shouldn't be subjected to it." Lastly, six respondents said "Yes, and there should be no restrictions. Tokers should be allowed to drive and go to work while high."