OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin on Wednesday approved a controversial set of medicinal marijuana regulations, including a sales ban on smokable forms and a requirement that licensed pharmacists staff dispensaries.
Fallin’s action came a day after the State Board of Health, which is overseeing the implementation, slapped restrictive and controversial changes on the framework that will govern the state’s fledgling medical marijuana industry. The new rules also include a ban on many edible cannabis products.
Supporters of the measure have panned the rules as violating the will of Oklahomans, saying a majority of voters legalized cannabis for medicinal use with the expectation of purchasing smokable forms of the drug.
Neither the ban on smokables nor requiring pharmacists to work at dispensaries were included in the draft of proposed regulations released to the public ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
In a statement, the Republican Fallin said the rules are the best place to begin forming the regulatory framework as well as the quickest and most cost-efficient way to get legalization started.
Fallin said she expected “modifications” could occur in the future.
“I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions,” she said. “But I encourage everyone to approach this effort in a constructive fashion in order to honor the will of the citizens of Oklahoma who want a balanced and responsible medical marijuana law. “
Fallin said the State Department of Health is required to start the licensing application process by July 26, and asking the Legislature to pass comprehensive legislation in a special session is not realistic.
“Dealing with medical marijuana is unchartered territory for our state, and there are many opinions, including divisive views even among (State Question) 788 backers, on how this should be implemented,” she said. “Discussions have been going on the past few months in and outside the Capitol with no clear-cut agreement.
The fate of the emergency rules is uncertain as observers warned of litigation — unless the Legislature intervenes.
“Our hope was that the governor would reject these emergency rules,” said Allie Shinn, a spokeswoman with the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Because she did not, we’re looking at other options to ensure that the will of more than 500,000 Oklahomans who voted to approve this measure is respected. Whether that’s special session or litigation, we can’t say yet, but it will need to be one of those options.”
Shinn said the rules approved both by Fallin and the Board of Health amount to “essentially a rewrite” of what Oklahomans thought they were approving.
“I think when Oklahomans went to the ballot box, they intended to vote on a measure that allows doctors to make responsible decisions,” she said. “By implementing a blanket ban on smokable marijuana, the Health Department has overstepped their bounds and limited the decisions that doctors and patients can make together unnecessarily.”
In a statement, industry trade group New Health Solutions Oklahoma said the new rules are designed to “hamstring” the medical cannabis program overwhelmingly approved by voters.
“By refusing to show leadership and call a special session, the governor’s office has handed over the implementation of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program to a group of bureaucrats that are beholden to the special interest groups that fought State Question 788,” said Jed Green, the group’s political director. “The people making policy now are the same people who ran a million -ollar smear campaign aimed at convincing Oklahomans that smoking medical cannabis would lead to the collapse of society.”
Earlier this week, a group of health care leaders from the several state medical associations, which opposed the state question, demanded that smokable products be banned, that pharmacists be required in dispensaries and also that the number and locations of dispensaries be limited to 50. Oklahoma has 77 counties.
Health board members adopted two out of three of those recommendations — against the advice of their own attorney. The lawyer warned that she didn’t believe the board had the legal authority to implement such changes, and it could leave the state’s regulatory framework vulnerable to legal challenges.
Litigation could delay implementation of some or all of the regulatory provisions, observers note.
“We should be moving forward to responsibly implement the will of Oklahoma voters, not working to silence their voices,” Green said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.