House committee churns through medical marijuana bills

Eight Senate medical marijuana bills, including one that would limit the THC content of edibles, advanced through an Oklahoma House of Representatives committee on Wednesday.

Alcohol, Tobacco and Controlled Substances Committee Chairman T.J. Marti, R-Broken Arrow, carried all but one of the medical marijuana bills, including a couple whose original language he completely stripped and replaced with House bills the Senate had refused to hear.

Getting perhaps the most attention was Senate Bill 440, which would limit Delta-9 THC content to 1,000 milligrams per package. Several committee members seemed skeptical of such a limit’s practical effect, but Marti said it will help curb black market uses.

Delta-9 is a naturally occurring THC that accounts for most of marijuana’s potency. 

“It’s come to our attention that people are making a 20,000- or 30,000-milligram cake or piece of pie and driving it across the border,” Marti said.

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Rep. Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, said some patients using marijuana for pain need more than 1,000 milligrams. Marti noted that the bill as currently written does not limit the total THC value a person may purchase, only the amount in each package.

But because each package is tracked, Marti said, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would be able to spot abnormally large purchases.

Other medical marijuana bills passed by Marti’s committee Wednesday include:

• SB 437, which originally concerned training for doctors prescribing cannabis but now repurposed as a second attempt at forcing the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to rebid its contract for seed-to-sale technology.

Marti and Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, said the current system is not working as expected and that those in the industry complain that the vendor does not respond quickly enough to problems.

• SB 645, which would require packaging of all products, including flower, which according to Marti is now sold “out of 10-gallon drums.”

This measure, and SB 437, are intended to provide more consistency in the quality and content of the product.

• SB 801, another full substitute, brings back House language that would allow authorities to monitor water and power usage of grow facilities. Such information would help identify unreported production.

• SB 913, carried by Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton, would require grow operators to post a $50,000 bond unless they’ve owned the property for at least five years. The bond is to cover the cost of cleanup if the grow is abandoned, as Moore said several in his area have been.

Also Wednesday, the House passed and sent to the governor a measure taking $600 million out of Oklahoma Health Care Authority reserves and reappropriating them for fiscal year 2024, apparently to make sure they aren’t funneled into an economic development scheme.

Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Wallace, R-Wellston, said a “white paper” circulating around the Capitol proposed using as much as $750 million for in excess Medicaid money for “concepts that have nothing to do with health care,” including a project involving the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.

“I’m not saying they are bad ideas,” Wallace said. “I’m not saying I don’t support ideas. I’m saying if we need to, put them on the board and pass them.”

Wallace said the Health Care Authority, which administers the state’s Medicaid programs, has accumulated a surplus of more than $800 million because of increased federal matching funds during the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility.

The surplus could still indirectly wind up in something other than health care, should budget makers decide to use it to free up general revenue for other purposes.

The House Public Health Committee advanced an amended version of SB 613, which prohibits “gender transition procedures” for minors. A House version sought to effectively bar gender transition care for adults and children.

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