DAZED AND CONFUSED: Questions Swirl Around Marijuana in MooreAug 01, 2018
LINKS TO ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
We Can't Make This Stuff Up: A Timeline of the Wacky Events Since Voters Approved Medical Marijuana
How Things Will Work (Maybe) for Medical Marijuana Users
Not Every Ingredient in Marijuana Gets You High, and There Are a LOT of Ingredients
Everything Has Changed
The Oklahoma landscape changed overnight on June 26, 2018. Residents went to bed in a state where marijuana was illegal and woke up to a new reality: Oklahomans will soon be able to grow or purchase marijuana for medical purposes. It’s a change Bud Scott, the Executive Director of pro-medical marijuana group New Health Solutions Oklahoma, said should not come as a surprise.
“We knew from our research and conversations that a majority of Oklahomans were in favor of medical marijuana,” said Scott. “Everyone has a cousin, an aunt, a daughter, or a friend who has dealt with a medical condition that could be helped by medical marijuana.”
State Question 788 was approved by a 57%-to-43% margin, a gap that Scott thinks would be much larger if the language in the question had been more precise.
“We think it would have passed by more than 70% if the language had been clearer,” said Scott. “But it was something that was drafted by marijuana activists for activists, and we saw from the very beginning that the way it was written was going to create problems with the implementation.”
PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS
As it turns out, the word “problems” has been something of an understatement. No one could have predicted the crazy turn of events that followed the passage of SQ 788. And by extension, no one can really predict how and when the tangled and confusing path to implementation of the state’s new medical marijuana law will be resolved. In short, no one knows for sure when Oklahomans will actually be able to purchase medical marijuana.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” said Scott, “In all honesty, I think we’ll be lucky to have products in a dispensary by January.”
State House representatives Chris Kannady (R-Oklahoma City) and Mark McBride (R-Moore) agree with Scott’s assessment on all counts: it’s a confusing scenario made even more unclear by the actions of state agencies and individuals working for those agencies. Kannady, who is also a lawyer, agreed with Scott on the problematic language in SQ 788.
“People need to understand that this was not written by the legislature or vetted by people who were interested in getting the language right,” said Kannady. “But it did pass, and that’s the will of the people, so now it falls on our shoulders to properly implement it. That means regulations and rules that will facilitate the law as it is intended to be.”
McBride said, “It passed by the will of the people, and that’s important to understand. But even though it passed, it was, nearly everyone outside of the activists would agree, so poorly written that we’ll have a lot of work to do to implement it.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s first attempts at creating rules and regulations resulted in a dumpster-fire of controversy that ignited anger across the state for those who were on either side of the medical marijuana vote. It also ended up costing the State Health Department’s general counsel her job (see the Dazed & Confused Timeline). Scott believes that people have a right to be angry.
“The Department of Health did overstep their authority,” said Scott. “You had the State Dept of Health intentionally and knowingly adopt rules that were impermissible. You had a governor intentionally and knowingly sign off on what were clearly impermissible rules. They knew what they were doing was beyond the scope and they did it anyway.”
In fact, it would appear that the only people in the state that didn’t think the State Department of Health and the governor were overstepping their authority were actually the State Department of Health and the governor.
“It was a messy as you could have expected it to be,” said Kannady. “The Health Department counsel advised them against taking action, but they went ahead and did it anyway.”
McBride agrees that the process has been unnecessarily messy so far, but adds that the language in State Question 788 virtually guarantees a troublesome journey to implementation.
“Even if we had done exactly what the initiative petition says, it was still going to take months to implement,” said McBride. “You’re going to legal challenges on both sides because neither side is going to like how it’s handled.”
UNTANGLING THE MESS
There’s not a clear and easy road to that moment when the first medical marijuana dispensary opens its doors in Oklahoma. As Scott, one of the key pro-medical marijuana figures in the state noted, it would be surprising to see a dispensary open before January of 2019. McBride believes that’s an accurate time frame.
“Getting dispensaries open in 2018 will be a stretch,” said McBride. “I think the next 30-to-60 days will tell us where we’re going to end up. I think sometime in 2019 would be reasonable to expect.”
However, Kannady notes that even after the dispensaries are open, there’s a high chance the state legislature will be dealing with changes and regulations for years to come. He points to the fact that state lawmakers are still wrestling with alcohol regulations 85 years after Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
“State Question 792, the alcohol question, was voted in two years ago and look at how that’s been handled,” said Kannady. “We’re still working out the kinks to make sure it’s implemented correctly and as the people want us to do. Now you’ve got SQ 788 and the use of medical marijuana in a state where marijuana has never been legal. So it will take time to iron out the details and make this right.”
Scott believes the answer lies in a special session of the legislature, something he and his group have been pushing for even before the June 26 election day.
“Everyone who was campaigning for 788, including ourselves, recognized and openly admitted during the campaign that there would be a need for supplemental legislation and regulations,” said Scott. “We proposed pretty comprehensive legislation to address these issues not because we want to over-regulate this but because we want to make it consistent with what we see around the rest of the country.”
Scott believes that using the legislation, his group has compiled a brief special legislative session could quickly resolve most of the issues. That proposed legislation is also based on what has worked in other states where medical marijuana has been approved.
“The legislation we’ve drafted and submitted to the public for response was based upon lessons learned and policies implemented in Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington,” said Scott. “We proposed pretty comprehensive legislation to address these issues not because we want to over-regulate this but because we want to make it consistent with what we see around the rest of the country.”
Fortunately, according to Kannady, State Question 788 does allow for these types of changes to be made.
“Because the change in the state question was statutory the legislature has the ability to go in and make interpretations as to what is in the best interest of the state and the people,” said Kannady. “I anticipate just like anything else that there are going to be a lot of nuances and a lot of things that we are going to have to address for several years to come as we deal with this.”
McBride agrees that the legislature will likely be dealing with the issue for years to come, but hopes for a quick resolution that will get SQ 788 into motion.
“I hope we’re not working on this for years,” said McBride. “I would prefer that it be pretty cut and dried so that we could get it done and implemented.”
SO…HOW WILL MEDICAL MARIJUANA LOOK IN MOORE?
Renee Harper is a registered nurse and co-owner of Green Hope Wellness in Moore. She and her partner, Amanda Burtone opened the CBD business in March 2018. Harper said that for her the business is more of a mission to help people beat an addiction to opiods.
“We were seeing patients in the clinic, and they were so sick and tired of doctors prescribing opiods,” said Harper. “We had tons of people that were coming in here looking for help.”
Harper says that CBD products, which have the psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, THC, removed, have been a significant help for many.
“We sell 100% THC free CBD which is made by Can Tek Labs right down on I-35,” said Harper. “There are tons of people who don't want to be high from the THC, so we have a huge clientele for the THC-free products.”
Now that medical marijuana is legal in Oklahoma she anticipates being able to help even more patients. But she does agree that there will be some bumps along the way as regulations and rules are implemented.
“I’m thinking most doctors will be a little tentative about recommendations at first,” said Harper. “I know that doctors have to be certified before they can make recommendations, but I’m not sure where that certification is going to come from.”
Harper and her partner plan to open a medical marijuana dispensary in a separate location from the CBD business. They plan for the store to have an upscale, professional look that provides safe and reliable products.
“The dispensaries will most likely have ATM’S because banking regulations will require that transactions are conducted with cash,” said Harper. “There will also be security cameras and bullet-proof glass in place along with security guards and vaults to keep the medical marijuana products separate and protected.”
In the meantime, Renee hopes that everyone will begin to do their homework so that they can understand what she says are the apparent benefits of plant-based medication.
“I think the thing that medical marijuana does for people is that allows them to take control of their health,” said Harper. “There is such a stigmatism with the use of medical marijuana, CBD, and CBG that I think we’re going to overcome over the next few years because unlike pharmaceuticals, you don’t develop a tolerance to it where you need more and more. It actually works backward so that as your body’s own endocannabinoid system starts working properly, you actually need the product less and less.”
When it comes to the impact of State Question 788 on students and teachers, Moore Public Schools Superintendent Robert Romines said administrators and school attorneys are paying close attention to what is happening with state agencies and lawmakers.
“We are waiting to see what the final rules are from our state lawmakers,” said Romines. “ We will not move forward until they come up with firm guidelines.”
Part of the issue for Moore Public Schools is making allowances for staff who legally use marijuana for treatment of various problems. Romines said that, as in all other medical circumstances, MPS plans to follow doctor’s orders with some degree of flexibility.
“There is a good chance that modifications will have to be made in the event of prescribed medications,” said Romines. “The District currently has employees that require modifications and restrictions due to many reasons.”
As for students who are legally using marijuana under the recommendation of a prescription, Romines said the MPS attorneys are developing a policy for students on issues like participation in extracurricular activities and or graduation exercises. Overall, Romines believes Moore Public Schools will be able to adapt to this new law as more information becomes available.
“I do not anticipate problems but know there will be learning curves as we move through this unknown territory,” said Romines. “We will review other state statutes, policies, and procedures (with help from legal) once we receive more direction from our state government and State Board of Health.”
On the law enforcement side of the equation in Moore, Sergeant Jeremy Lewis of the Moore Police Department said he and his fellow officers aren’t really anticipating any significant changes in department policy.
“We really don’t look at it as being different than any other type of medication,” said Lewis. “That’s really what it’s supposed to be: a form of medication and that’s how we will treat it.”
Lewis said he does want everyone to remember that officers treat intoxication or “being under the influence” the same, regardless of whether the intoxicating substance is alcohol, a legally-prescribed drug, or an illegal substance.
“If someone has a prescription or a license that they are supposed to take it then we have no problem with that at all,” said Lewis. “If it impairs their ability to drive a vehicle then that’s different. You can’t do that. Even now you can get a DUI for driving under the influence of marijuana.”
As lawmakers work on regulations, rules, and implementation of medical marijuana, Lewis said Moore police officers will be working on becoming more adept at understanding the effects of marijuana and the change in laws.
“We are sending some officers to different schools that will help us recognize the effects of medical marijuana that isn’t smoked because there won’t be an odor there to identify it,” said Lewis. “I’m sure there will be other restrictions such as you won’t be able to be in a park smoking or under the influence in public, and that’s something we’ll address as it comes. But I don’t think it will be a whole lot of difference than the way we enforce alcohol laws.”