By Steve Metzer
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry took a big step toward maturity on Monday with passage of a bill establishing wide-ranging rules addressing things like product testing requirements and defining “safety sensitive” jobs that would prohibit people from using medical marijuana.
The so-called “Unity Bill” passed the Senate on a 43-5 vote and is headed to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office for his signature. It provides parameters for people who are permitted to use marijuana and also for people licensed to grow marijuana or to sell marijuana products through dispensaries.
Under the bill, Oklahomans with “safety sensitive” jobs would be prohibited from using marijuana. Such jobs were defined as those that employers might reasonably believe would put an employee or others at risk if an employee were to be a marijuana user. The bill specifically listed jobs involving handling of hazardous or combustible materials and those involving the operation of motor vehicles or machinery. Other “safety sensitive” jobs defined by the bill range from firefighting to dispensing drugs in a pharmacy. Police officers and others who carry firearms on the job would be prohibited from using medical marijuana. So would people involved in patient care or child care. The bill would stipulate that employers could not fire people who hold non-safety-sensitive jobs or refuse to hire people simply because they have medical marijuana licenses or even if they test positively for marijuana use, unless they can show that marijuana was used on the job.
Under the measure, House Bill 2612, smokable marijuana products would be subject to the same restrictions for use in public spaces as tobacco.
Among other rules, the bill establishes that private labs would be used to ensure that medical marijuana sold in the state meets standards for health, quality and consistency. Marijuana would be tested for THC content, potency and also for pesticides and other harmful materials.
Only licensed Oklahoma allopathic and osteopathic physicians could provide recommendations for patient licenses. The act also provides certain protection for physicians for providing permit recommendations.
The bill spells out that packaging for medical marijuana should minimize “appeal to children.” Businesses would not be allowed to market to people under 21, and their products would have to be kept in child-resistant containers. Labels could not make claims regarding health or physical benefits, and they would have to spell out levels of THC and potency.
The bill also calls for creation of a medical marijuana use registry designed to assist, for example, dispensary operators in confirming that patients are permitted to purchase medical marijuana.
It would prohibit cities and counties from passing ordinances that would infringe on rights of people and businesses outlined in the act. People permitted to use medical marijuana couldn’t be denied access to local programs or to state assistance, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, because of the use of medical marijuana.
Despite its being called the “Unity Bill,” not everyone at the Capitol Monday was in favor of the measure. Paul Tay, a volunteer field service representative for Cannabis Party OK, said his organization particularly objected to the Legislature’s attempts to define “safety sensitive” jobs, asserting that the definitions used would unnecessarily take away rights of many Oklahomans. Tay said the organization also feels the bill gives doctors too much authority to deny medical marijuana rights based on “whims” or unreasonable fears of federal anti-marijuana laws.