GCM Roundup | May 8, 2021
I spent much of the last two weeks painstakingly memorizing a TEDx Tulsa talk that was supposed to happen last year about this guy, Karl Fontenot, one of the capital-murder defendants in the Netflix series “The Innocent Man.” Talk is in the can now a year later and streams online sometime next month.
Back to the weed beat. Some legislative and policy notes first before we get to headlines. The Oklahoma legislative session for 2021 began in February with a head-spinning number of proposals having to do with cannabis. The field has now narrowed considerably as one bill after another failed to meet key legislative deadlines required to become law. Follow the latest here.
Arguably the bill to watch closest now is HB 2646 from Rep. Jon Echols (R-Oklahoma City). It was already a laundry list of cannabis rule changes that policymakers have sought in the past, some of them good and others not so good, depending on your outlook. Now the bill has picked up two new amendments that should get the attention of the cannabis industry.
The first would ban dispensaries from displaying bulk loose flower in jars as many of them do currently. Dispensaries would be permitted only to showcase samples of flower that could not be available for retail sale. The product would otherwise need to be contained in a sealed or separate package. (See page 16 section E of the most recent version of the bill to see what I’m describing.)
Another amendment in HB 2646 would end the last chance Oklahoma has in the legislative session to authorize temporary licenses for nonresidents of Oklahoma who don’t already have a medical license in their home state. I’m guessing temporary licenses would be a welcome release valve for Oklahoma’s competitive cannabis market at the moment.
A conference committee considered HB 2646 during hearings this week at the statehouse. Echols said he wasn’t thrilled with some of the compromises required to keep the bill moving. It’s clear, however, that he’s determined to get the bill passed along with another, HB 2674, which would move cannabis regulation in Oklahoma to a new agency. Here’s what Echols said during a May 5 conference committee hearing about the first more expansive bill:
“This bill is not everything I wanted. This is not how I would have drafted it had I had my druthers. And it’s probably not everything the Senate wanted, either, because they had to compromise with me on some things. But it is incredibly important that we pass it. Let’s first go to the citizens of the state of Oklahoma. We are not doing our job. We have unsafe product. We have product that is not being tested. We have product that is coming in from other states. We have products that are being grown in this state and sold out of state. It is ridiculous and absurd.
“ … There are many provisions I don’t like. But on the aggregate, this is something we really need to pass. When we have people who are trying to play by the rules, and we are not doing enough to enforce those rules on everybody, it hurts the citizens and hurts the legitimate people who have put their personal fortunes on the line -- whatever they have, their equity. To not enforce those rules is just not fair.”
Echols went on to say that as little as 40 percent of the cannabis and cannabis products in the state were being tested for safety and quality. Between House bills 2646 and 2674, Echols wants to toughen up enforcement of the industry in part by creating a new Oklahoma Department of Marijuana and Alcohol that merges the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority with the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
Elsewhere, the office of Rep. David Hardin (R-Stilwell) confirmed last week that Senate Bill 445 is officially dead for the session. It would have effectively re-criminalized cannabis in Oklahoma by removing a provision of state law that shields patients from criminal penalties for diversion to unlicensed people. It also would have made diversion punishable under Oklahoma’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Act.
It wasn’t clear to me earlier in the session what was motivating Hardin and Sen. Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) to sponsor this bill. Then Hardin revealed it in a committee hearing. The district attorneys wanted it. There’s a strong perception at the statehouse and in law enforcement that black markets and noncompliance are pervasive in Oklahoma cannabis, and I doubt that perception is going away anytime soon.
Also dead for the session are three major bills from Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Okmulgee), who along with Echols is one of the closest watchers of cannabis policy at the statehouse. The three are HB 2023 (allowing the transfer of cannabis business licenses for $500), HB 2004 (another laundry list of cannabis rules changes similar to 2646), and HB 2022 (temporary patient licenses lasting two years for nonresidents with no medical license in their home state).
I follow a cool think tank that tracks what states are doing as they institute cannabis reforms to clear festering past drug-arrest records. Called the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, they partnered recently with the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University to create the above graphic showing where states are beginning to automatically expunge past weed arrests or at least make it easier to pursue expungement. They also published a corresponding paper with their findings.
As you can see, this is something Oklahoma didn’t do when it authorized medical marijuana in 2018. PBS NewsHour reported recently that as more states legalize and decriminalize, more people carrying criminal records from cannabis are asking for relief.
I’ve tried before to determine just how many people have been handed weed felonies by the state of Oklahoma over the decades. The closest number I’ve seen is from the Oklahoma Policy Institute: Roughly 60,000 people have simple drug-possession felonies. But how many of those are from cannabis is uncertain.
While it’s possible to get nonviolent criminal records expunged in Oklahoma currently, the process is complicated and for the most part requires a lawyer. I wrote more at length about this here on Green Country Monitor. I’ve also written extensively about Oklahoma expungement policy (and DUIs, including weed DUIs) for Tulsa attorney Sabah Khalaf, aka the Tulsa DUI Guy and the Tulsa Expungement Guy.
GCM Roundup | Oklahoma and Beyond
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics says that it is “checking into concerns of illegal grows in all 77 Oklahoma counties.” If you spend any time at all on Reddit or the cannabis Facebook groups, you’ve seen the wild range of rumors about Oklahoma’s black markets. Whether based on fact or not, perception is everything. Law enforcers and lawmakers are serious about cracking down on violations and noncompliance. That much is true.
The bureau raided a grow house last week in Blackwell, Oklahoma, where the cultivator was operating with an expired license. “Agents said the owner made no effort to renew their license and charges can be coming within the next few days. … The owner of the business is facing a long list of felony charges.”
Earlier in the week, the bureau raided a grow operation in Erick, Oklahoma, that it said was connected to yet another raid late last month in Guthrie. Although no arrests were made at the time of the Erick raid, a spokesman for OBN said on Facebook that it was “all tied [to] criminal organizations moving hundreds of pounds of marijuana onto the black market under the guise of a ‘medical marijuana’ farm.’’ Another message from the spokesman came the next day: “This is not a safe haven.”
Commissioners in Woodward County, Oklahoma, this week tabled until a later date two requests from cannabis businesses for certificates of compliance. Said one commissioner as the reason: “I don't feel like the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority is doing their job with all of these applications. … I just think that there's some documentation that we need to be requiring from all applicants, because I don't know that it's been done appropriately down state.”
Police responded at 3 am on May 6 to reports of a guy stealing thousands of dollars worth of cannabis from a dispensary on Pennsylvania Avenue in Oklahoma City. After being placed in handcuffs, the suspect then tried to escape to a getaway car with a driver inside while he was still in handcuffs. The two men crashed on May Avenue shortly thereafter and were arrested.
Here’s a creative fella who tried to traffic hundreds of pounds of cannabis illegally by stashing it in 14 ATM machines.
The world is full of great cannabis, and breathtakingly stupid people are eating tainted meat to get high.
Hemp was legally shipped in the United States by rail this month for the first time in 84 years.
I so want to see “farm-gate cannabis” become an Oklahoma thing in which people can visit a grow and buy directly from a cultivator. Just like making a trip out to the pumpkin patch during fall.
The National Association of Realtors released a new report showing that commercial landlords dislike having cannabis retailers and cultivators as tenants for reasons beyond federal prohibition. “The smell. You can’t get rid of it.” The fact that you have difficulty getting banked is another reason.
A major employer in Coldwater, Michigan, is threatening to abandon the town if it’s forced to be located near a cultivation site. The company president in a letter to the town mayor said it would create a “horrible smell” and “destroy” nearby property values.
Green Market Report says Texas could become the next target for early cannabis investors. I’m skeptical it will happen as soon as people in cannabis would like. The chances of Texas and Kansas both passing significant cannabis reforms bills in their current sessions are diminishing fast. Texas would have to wait another two years for its legislature to meet again. Reform hopes also seem to be fading in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Nebraska may pass a very weak reform bill that would prohibit smoking. Louisiana lawmakers, meanwhile, are poised to allow smokable cannabis. It's policy whiplash out there, y'all.
Also in Texas, a top aide to the state’s agriculture commissioner was arrested for allegedly squeezing money and campaign contributions out of would-be hemp licensees. In California, two local officials were sentenced to two years of prison each after they took bribes in exchange for city dispensary permits.
Listening to: Leon Russell “Stranger in a Strange Land” Reply with an email or sign up to receive alerts. Follow Green Country Monitor on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you appreciate this work, consider leaving a tip.