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Groups joust over proposed content of medical marijuana regulations

Voters passed State Question 788 on Tuesday, legalizing medical marijuana. Several groups are working to have input into the regulations of the industry it will create, as well as standards for doctors prescribing it. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman]

Voters passed State Question 788 on Tuesday, legalizing medical marijuana. Several groups are working to have input into the regulations of the industry it will create, as well as standards for doctors prescribing it. [Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman]

The medical marijuana election is over, but jousting continues over the shape of proposed regulations.

Some would like to see major changes in the law before it takes effect. Others would like to see just minor tweaks and the adoption of laboratory testing standards designed to ensure product safety.

Supporters and opponents, alike, have been weighing in as the Oklahoma Health Department seeks to develop regulations to guide the new industry.

The Legislature could take over that role if Gov. Mary Fallin were to call lawmakers in for a special session, but after conferring with lawmakers the governor indicated Friday that she was not planning to do that.

Disagreement has already surfaced between medical marijuana supporters over what qualifications a person should be required to meet to obtain a business license.

Fee debate

The law approved by voters would require a license to be issued to anyone 25 or older who could meet minimal requirements, including paying a $2,500 fee and not having committed a nonviolent felony within the last two years or violent felony within the last five years.

Chip Paul, one of the founders of the group that drafted the initiative petition, said his group believes it is important to keep the fee low and not develop onerous financial means requirements to encourage competition and hopefully keep down the cost of medical marijuana to consumers.

Bud Scott, executive director of the medical cannabis trade group New Health Solutions Oklahoma, said his group believes the low fees and lack of a financial means requirement are a bad idea.

"We've been saying for some time that we thought it was incumbent on the industry to effectively pay for the regulation of the program and we can't do that under the current fee schedule," he said. The fee needs to be higher, he said.

"This whole concept that $2,500 and not being a felon, you get a business license, is a recipe for disaster," Scott said. "When you go in to apply for a mixed beverage permit, you have to demonstrate that you have the capital to even run your business. That's the kind of basic stuff we need in here."

"If you're having to put in security systems and you're having to do regulatory compliance to the level we've seen in most successful jurisdictions, this is going to cost some money. We're not trying to make this people with money versus people without money. We're just trying to approach this from a realistic perspective."

Opponents of State Question 788 also have been suggesting proposed regulatory changes.

Safety concerns

"This measure, as written, is especially dangerous for the oil and natural gas industry, where safety is paramount," said Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association.

"For us, safety is the issue," Warmington said. "If somebody is impaired and shows up to work high and has a marijuana card, it's almost like it wipes the slate clean in terms of your actions against them. The deal is the employer's rights and abilities to manage that work site and what they can do with their employee who is high — whether or not you can terminate or discipline. That's the problem we need to get cleared up."

Doctors' training

Dr. Kevin E. Taubman, immediate past president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and co-chairman of a group that campaigned against State Question 788, said many doctors would like to see a continuing medical education requirement for doctors before they can recommend medical marijuana to patients.

"We certainly believe there needs to be a mandatory continuing medical education component," Dr. Taubman said. "Nowhere in medical school is marijuana taught. It's just not because it hasn't been a truly consistent therapeutic regimen anywhere for a long period of time."

As it stands now, patients could obtain a two-year medical marijuana card with the recommendation of a physician "and there's no mandate of any guidance of how doctors should be following these patients, dosages, schedules, adjustments — there's nothing acceptable in medical literature about inhalation regimens, so if we're going to do all this, continuing medical education for our physicians to help them is necessary."

Dr. Taubman and others praised the Health Department for some of the initial work done in preparing draft regulations that would prohibit smoking marijuana in the same types of public places where tobacco smoking is currently prohibited and ban the manufacture or sale of medical marijuana products designed to be attractive to children, like gummy bears, gummy worms, lollipops, fake cigarettes or animal or similarly shaped candies.

Other possible state questions

If Oklahoma voters don't like the regulations that the Health Department comes up with, they may have the opportunity to revisit the medical marijuana issue in November.

Currently, two petitions are being circulated that call for state questions on proposed constitutional amendments to allow marijuana use in Oklahoma.

Proposed State Question 796 would once again deal with medical marijuana, while proposed State Question 797 would permit adult (recreational) use of the drug.

Isaac Caviness, president of Green the Vote of Tulsa, confirmed that his group intends to continue circulating the petitions regardless of the regulations eventually put in place for the medical marijuana state question recently approved by voters.

"These petitions are the tool we use to make sure that our Legislature doesn't over-regulate 788," he said. "If they write good legislation and enact 788 the way it's meant to be, the way that it's written, then we will lose support for these petitions and likely will fall short on our signature count. But if they enact bad legislation or they don't go into special session and enact anything at all, then that's going to fuel these petitions and we'll probably far overcome the number of signatures needed."

Caviness said his group has been gathering about 1,000 signatures a day and is on pace to surpass the 123,725 signatures needed by Aug. 8 to get the state questions on the November ballot.

Surprisingly, Caviness said that as of Tuesday, his group had obtained a few more signatures on the adult use marijuana petitions than on the medical marijuana ones.

How petitions differ

Although proposed State Question 796 and the state question Oklahomans voted on Tuesday both deal with medical marijuana, they differ in a few key respects.

Proposed State Question 796 would be a constitutional amendment, while the issue Oklahomans voted on Tuesday involved statutory changes. The Oklahoma Legislature can amend or alter statutory changes through the normal legislative process, while altering a constitutional amendment would require another vote of the people.

The issue Oklahomans just voted on stated “no qualifying conditions” are required for a physician to recommend medical marijuana. The proposed constitutional amendment provides a lengthy list of qualifying ailments, but also would allow a patient to obtain medical marijuana for any other unnamed condition as long as they could get two physicians to sign off on the recommendation.

Caviness said State Question 796 also has a provision designed to protect medical marijuana cardholders from unwarranted prosecutions for driving under the influence of drugs. It states that a person could not be charged with DUI or DWI solely on the basis of a blood, urine or breath test. A video recorded field sobriety test would be required to prove evidence of impairment, he said. Traces of marijuana compounds can remain in a person's system a long time, so a person can test positive for those substances with chemical tests even if the individual is no longer impaired, he said.

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›