By Steve Metzer
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Rules affecting Oklahoma’s estimated $1 billion medical marijuana industry were signed into law Thursday by Gov. Kevin Stitt.
Spelled out over 77 pages in House Bill 2612, the mandates reflect the work of House and Senate members who formed a Medical Marijuana Working Group after passage last summer of State Question 788. Voters at that time overwhelmingly supported legalizing medical marijuana, but the state question provided little insight into how the now-burgeoning industry would be regulated.
Lawmakers have said that they expect “trailer bills” in the future to more explicitly define rules regarding such things as how state banks and insurance companies will be protected in their dealings with businesses involved in the industry. Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat said Thursday that the rules package signed by Stitt represents a “major accomplishment,” but also a “work in progress.”
“We’ll still have regulations to address in the future, (but this framework) kept the will of the voters,” he said. “It protects workplace safety and maintains quality of patient care.”
The legislation had been described as a “Unity Bill,” as lawmakers believed the measure would be broadly supported by people representing a diversity of views on medical marijuana. However, Bud Scott, executive director and attorney for the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association, said he didn’t feel the measure deserved that description.
Scott said it’s his opinion that HB 2612 gives too much regulatory authority to the state commissioner of health. A much more agreeable plan, he said, would have been for lawmakers to form a new Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with advisory board members including industry experts to establish and enforce rules.
“This is a big deal. It’s a $1 billion industry,” he said. “It’s unsettling that it would be so dependent on one person.”
Scott said he’s been disappointed, too, to see a lack of communication as to rules enforcement. Agencies and organizations big and small, ranging from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture to local fire marshals’ offices, have been weighing in on rules and enforcement, he said. As a result, legitimate business owners who have invested millions in the industry have been hampered by the inconsistent and arbitrary judgment of people who may or may not have regulatory authority.
Despite his concerns, Scott said he would probably give state lawmakers a B- for their work on the legislation. He said HB 2612 does address things like quality assurance, so that medical marijuana patients might know that products they buy meet standards for health and safety.
“Quality assurance has always been a priority, so we’re pleased to see that’s addressed,” he said.
He said the new law also offers protections for growers, for grower-to-grower sales of marijuana seeds and for protection of third-party transporters of medical marijuana products – all priorities of the Cannabis Industry Association.
“We’ve been successful in achieving several of our key objectives and priorities,” he said, “but there’s still work to do, still progress to be made.”
As an example, Scott said he would like to see the law offer more protection for physicians who prescribe medical marijuana. He said some organizations have been unfairly pressuring doctors not to prescribe. He said the Legislature still has work to do, too, in defining “safety sensitive” jobs that currently would prevent many Oklahomans from using medical marijuana.
“The law as it is now is still too restrictive,” he said, citing especially language that would prohibit people who use “power tools” at work from using medical marijuana in their off hours.
The attorney and industry advocate said the Legislature may have tried to move too fast in adopting rules for an emerging major industry, but he agreed that rules “absolutely” are still evolving.
“We’re working on many bills already,” he said. “What we’re really seeking is consistency, because we’re literally investing hundreds of millions of dollars in this. My clients alone have injected $75 million into the state economy within the last six months.”