State elected leaders began considering nearly 2,000 proposed bills on every imaginable issue for the 2021 legislative session beginning Feb. 1. The deadline for filing new bills was Jan. 21. Several proposals could directly impact cannabis businesses in the state by making major regulatory changes.
The most substantive bills that would significantly impact how cannabis businesses are regulated were proposed by two key lawmakers who have shown a keen interest in overseeing medical marijuana since voters authorized it in 2018: Republican representatives Jon Echols and Scott Fetgatter. See descriptions of some of the most important proposals below.
Echols has emerged as a close watcher of cannabis issues in Oklahoma, which makes it more possible his proposals could find their way to approval. The list of changes in this omnibus bill is dizzying. Here are some of the things that stand out most:
Reduces penalties for egregious errors made by cannabis businesses in required monthly disclosure reports filed with the state. As it is, the law allows for $5,000 in fines for a first-time error and total license revocation for the second. These fines would be lowered to $1,000 on the first offense and $5,000 on the second.
Authorizes licensed dispensaries and cultivators to package and sell their own pre-rolled joints rather than obtain a special processing license to do so or rely on a supplier with a processor license. The bill explicitly does not permit the pre-rolls to be infused with kief or distillate.
Establishes measurement standards for dispensary locations. They are prohibited already within 1,000 feet of any public or private school. The bill would set this measurement as between the two points of the property lines that are closest. That could constrain location options for dispensaries in the future.
Removes a “good cause” provision that requires state regulators to have specific reasons for disciplining cannabis business licensees, denying license applicants, or refusing to renew licenses. Requires licensees subject to disciplinary action to wait five years before applying again. Ends the ability of licensees to post cash or bond as an alternative to required liability insurance.
Ends the requirement that all cannabis businesses keep waste-disposal records of precise weights and counts for up to five years.
Expands the Medical Marijuana Advisory Council to 20 members instead of 12 and requires that it include industry representatives affected by regulatory changes.
Removes the requirement that business licensees be notified in advance of inspections by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Ends the requirement that the state give licensees sufficient time to contact a lawyer if questioned during an inspection.
Removes the requirement that cannabis businesses verify their sources of financing. They would still need to disclose their ownership interests and prove that 75 percent of the leaders of the business are Oklahoma residents.
Re-states that individual possession of up to 1.5 ounces is only punishable as a $400 misdemeanor fine and cannot result in imprisonment. Also empowers physicians to strip patients of their license eligibility and block patients from challenging the denial.
This bill was separately proposed by Echols and would completely hand over the newly created Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to a different state parent agency. The proposal would move OMMA from the Oklahoma Department of Health to the Oklahoma Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission. This move would seem to redefine medical marijuana as a vice to be controlled by law enforcers rather than a treatment option for medical sufferers overseen by health experts.
This proposal is similar to Echols’s House Bill 2646 and seeks to significantly alter Oklahoma’s medical marijuana regulations. Many of the changes are identical to HB 2646 or only slightly different. Here are some noteworthy provisions:
Allows for penalties where a cannabis business does not give state inspectors reasonable access to the licensed premises.
Grants cannabis businesses the right of 24 hours notice preceding a state inspection.
Gives medical marijuana patients 30 days to find a new prescribing doctor if the first physician determines that continued use isn’t necessary.
Requires cannabis businesses to write standard operating procedures “outlining the full operation of the business.”
Makes voter identification cards ineligible for the purposes of verifying a business license applicant’s Oklahoma residency.
This measure would enable cannabis dispensaries in Oklahoma to deliver purchases to customers who are located within 10 miles of the dispensary. In instances where there is no dispensary within 10 miles of the patient, the dispensary may deliver to a private residence within the county of business operation. Deliveries would be limited only to private residences. Dorms and student housing on university campuses would not qualify.
An attempt to permit cannabis delivery and the easier production of pre-roll joints was made in the earliest months of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was vetoed by Gov. Kevin Stitt last May. Licensed caregivers are currently allowed to make deliveries.
Unlike HB 2646, this bill would leave intact harsh penalties for cannabis businesses where they submit required monthly disclosure reports that are determined to be fraudulent. These fines are currently $5,000 on the first offense and license revocation on the second.
This is a separate effort by Fetgatter to present fully legal adult-marijuana use as a state ballot question to voters during the November 2022 election. It would permit anyone over the age of 21 to purchase cannabis and cannabis products for personal use without a physician’s recommendation and medical marijuana license.
The bill would also prohibit drug enforcers from using controversial civil-asset forfeiture laws to seize cash and property where they suspect drug crimes but have no drug evidence. Adults could possess up to one ounce, but as written, the proposal seems to prohibit consumption in public.
The consumer would need only a valid form of identification that verified his or her age just like alcohol purchases. However, those consumers not in possession of a medical-marijuana license would find themselves paying significantly more in state cannabis sales taxes -- 15% instead of the current 7%. And notably, the taxes would not be earmarked for education as is currently the case but be placed under the control of elected legislators.
Buried in this bill is a major change that would be easy to miss since it’s the removal of just a few words. Current statutes list professions and jobs that are considered “safety-sensitive” and could be affected by the use of medical marijuana, such as handling hazardous materials. This bill would remove the task of “performing firefighting duties” from the list.
Additional bills to watch
House Bill 1017 | Rep. Logan Phillips (R-Mounds) Establishes that being a medical marijuana patient cannot be grounds for revoking a person’s suspended sentence where the individual is serving probation as an alternative to jail or prison in an unrelated case.
House Bill 2930 | Rep. Rick West (R-Heavener) Prohibits the state from awarding loans and grants to cannabis-related proposals from a special Oklahoma program designed to promote interest in agriculture.
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