Medical marijuana advocates criticize new regulations

Members of Oklahomans for Health and the Cannabis Trade Association discuss regulations for the state’s medical marijuana industry in this screenshot taken from Oklahomans for Health’s Facebook page. The two groups hosted a press conference Wednesday to weigh in on the new rules, which include a provision banning the sale of smokeable medical marijuana.

The advocacy group that put State Question 788 in front of voters was unhappy Wednesday with some of the Oklahoma State Board of Health’s proposed regulations for medical marijuana.

Members of Oklahomans For Health, which wrote SQ 788, and the Oklahoma Cannabis Trade Association discussed the health board’s actions during a press conference Wednesday in Owasso. An Ada News reporter monitored the press conference on Oklahomans for Health’s Facebook page.

The groups hosted the press conference one day after the health board introduced emergency rules regulating the fledgling medical marijuana industry. Most of the new rules, including sections regulating labels and advertising, did not attract much attention.

But advocates of medical marijuana were upset because the health board added two new rules before Tuesday’s meeting, when the board signed off on the regulations. A group of health care professionals had pushed the board to include the additional regulations, which barred dispensaries from selling smokeable marijuana and some edibles and required each dispensary to hire a pharmacy.

Patients who grow their own marijuana would still be allowed to smoke it under the new rules, but dispensaries could not legally sell those products.

That provision violates the spirit of SQ 788, Oklahomans for Health founder Chip Paul said Wednesday.

“There’s no way in 788 that we expected anyone to take away our right to smoke medical marijuana under that program. No way,” he said. “So if anyone thinks that’s reflecting the spirit and intent of that law, it’s not.“

Paul also said the regulation requiring each dispensary to have a staff pharmacist would be too costly for dispensary owners.

Oklahomans For Health board member Ray Jennings, who credited medical marijuana with helping him beat cancer, criticized a provision that limits the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol — also known as THC — in medical marijuana. Under the rules, medical marijuana products may not contain more than 12 percent THC, while mature plants cannot be sold if their THC content exceeds 20 percent.

“We cannot limit the THC count or percentage in this product,” he said.

Regulating medical marijuana

Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana, in late June. The Oklahoma State Department of Health then proposed a set of emergency rules for medical marijuana, creating a framework for implementing SQ 788.

The state health board signed off on the rules Tuesday and sent them to Gov. Mary Fallin for consideration. Fallin approved the rules on Wednesday.

Fallin said the rules offered a starting point for developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, and they were the best way to start that process. She added that the state could modify those rules in the future.

“I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions,” Fallin said Wednesday in a news release. “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.”

Under SQ 788, the state health department must begin the application process for medical marijuana licenses by July 26. Completed applications can be submitted by the health department starting Aug. 25.

Oklahomans For Health Chairman Paul said Wednesday that the new rules did offer some guidance for business and patient planning, so they were valuable to some extent. But he said the provisions banning the sale of smokeable marijuana, limiting the amount of THC in marijuana products and requiring dispensaries to hire pharmacists skewed the intent of SQ 788.

“It’s not 788, and it’s not what we voted for, and it’s not what the people of Oklahoma voted for,” he said. “So we need to get it right.”

Paul said Oklahomans for Health and the Cannabis Trade Association are gathering plaintiffs for a lawsuit that would directly challenge the rule changes that the state Board of Health made. The groups are also planning a legal challenge to the THC limits contained in the regulations.

Paul said the two groups will launch in the fall a voter education campaign targeting candidates for state office who do not support SQ 788. The campaign would focus on legislative contests as well as the race for the governor’s mansion.

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.