Bills target tighter regulation of medical marijuana industry

A series of bills addressing regulation of the state’s medical marijuana industry are being considered this session by the Oklahoma Legislature. (Photo by belchonok via Deposit Photos)

A series of bills addressing regulation of the state’s medical marijuana industry are being considered this session by the Oklahoma Legislature. (Photo by belchonok via Deposit Photos)

The defeat in all 77 of Oklahoma’s counties of a proposal to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana reflects a broader desire to tighten regulation of the state’s medical marijuana industry, according to some lawmakers.

“Oklahoma is a better place for (State Question 820) failing,” Duncan Republican Sen. Jessica Garvin said. “I think the overwhelming results are also a clear sign that Oklahomans are not happy with the current medical marijuana program and want it to be reformed.”

Garvin and others have authored bills under consideration in the Legislature to “close loopholes” that have allowed illegal activity to creep into the medical marijuana marketplace. One of the most impactful, if it passes into law, could be Garvin’s Senate Bill 806, which would require physicians who choose to recommend medical marijuana to patients to take initial training and annual continuing education.

The lawmaker said passage of the measure would help to redefine Oklahoma’s industry more as a “true medical marijuana program” rather than “recreational marijuana lite.”

Another state lawmaker, Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, said he worked with the Office of the Attorney General in crafting Senate Bill 212, which would strengthen the state’s hand in preventing illegal foreign ownership of land, a rising concern especially in the state’s rural areas.

“It is no wonder a lot of people want land here, including those from other countries,” Bullard said. “(But that) is not an excuse to allow foreign nationals to buy up one of our most valuable resources, especially when they are cartels and from communist parties. We cannot continue to auction our state off to the highest criminal bidder.”

SB 212 passed in the upper chamber of the Legislature on Wednesday. Bullard said it addresses foreigners utilizing “straw owners” – potentially individuals, businesses, or trusts – who fraudulently complete real estate transactions to get around existing law. Under the measure, any deed recorded with a county clerk would be required to include an affidavit executed by the person or entity coming into title attesting that they, the business entity, or trust are lawfully obtaining the land in compliance with Oklahoma law, he said.

Lawmakers noted that 61% of voters rejected SQ 820, proposing to open the marijuana industry to an even greater number of players. Vocal opponents included law enforcement authorities, mental health professionals, local and state chamber officials, and other business leaders.

Sen. Greg McCortney, the Republican majority floor leader from Ada, agreed that the sweeping defeat of the question also reflected a desire by many to reign in the medical marijuana industry.

“The medical marijuana industry is here to stay,” he said. “That is one reason why Senate leadership has heavily relied on Senator Garvin to invest the necessary time to understand the industry better, both the pros and cons. She has worked with other members to present a series of bills to substantially improve patient safety and close many loopholes we have found in our current agency rules and state regulations.”

Garvin, whose professional career has been in the medical field, said she knows that cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) found in cannabis can have medical benefits.

Sen. Jessica Garvin

Sen. Jessica Garvin

“We need to ensure patients who are thriving, such as our veterans and cancer patients, continue to have the best quality of life possible,” she said. “However, Oklahomans are frustrated with the negative activities (associated with the medical marijuana industry), including human trafficking, loss of life, strain on our already brittle infrastructure, and increasing burdens on our judicial and mental health systems. Reform begins with looking at data supporting both sides of the argument and having meaningful conversations about public policy that uphold what voters supported in 2018 when they passed SQ788, but also striving to eliminate the unintended consequences it created.”

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