OKLAHOMA CITY — The Legislature’s joint medical marijuana committee Wednesday approved a set of nonbinding rules designed to govern laboratory testing and labeling of medicinal products.
But with no authority to actually implement them without a special session, lawmakers called on the state Board of Health to adopt their nearly 12 pages of recommendations — or something similar.
State Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, said testing and labeling rules are key medical marijuana legalization issues that must be addressed as soon as possible. Hundreds of dispensaries are scheduled to open and will likely start selling medical marijuana products in weeks.
The Board of Health, meanwhile, has no obligation to follow the advice of lawmakers.
“In the end, the Board of Health may completely ignore the work we do here today,” McCortney said.
The Board of Health, which has been tasked with setting the emergency rules, initially adopted labeling and testing regulations, but then rescinded them in August amid concerns from the state’s attorney general about the board’s authority to implement them.
Lawmakers said they are confident the Board of Health does have the authority to regulate that aspect of the fledgling medical marijuana industry.
However, it remained unclear Wednesday afternoon whether the board has any appetite to reconsider the issue. While members could call a special meeting, the board isn’t currently scheduled to meet again until December, said State Department of Health spokesman Tony Sellars.
The board also did not consider medical marijuana rules at either of its last two meetings and has yet to take up a series of pending food safety standards recommendations.
McCortney said if the health board refuses to do something about testing and labeling, “I think at that moment the need for the Legislature to be called into special session goes through the roof.”
Chris Moe, a cannabis activist who has attended many of the joint group’s meetings, said the legislative committee’s vote has no significance.
“The truth of the matter is it has no legal grounds,” Moe said. “The Health Department doesn’t have to follow anything they said.”
He questioned why the Legislature isn’t already planning a special session and said he has little faith the health board will take up the latest recommendations.
“I think the Health Department will do whatever they want because the attorney general and the governor have been making all the calls,” he said.
During an interview Monday with the Enid News and Eagle, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin said there must be support from House and Senate leadership in order to call a special session. With the upcoming November elections, there hasn’t been a lot of support.
Enacting medical marijuana legislation is complex, and people didn’t realize how complicated until various groups testified about the ramifications, she said. Those concerns range from doctors worrying about liability when they receive federal Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements to depositing money in banks when cannabis remains illegal federally, she said.
“But I do think the Legislature needs to have a bill ready and go into session — whatever that timeframe is — to address this issue and give certainty to the growers, to the recipients who want to be able to use medical marijuana, and protections for various businesses that will worry about breaking federal law and getting in trouble,” Fallin said.
State Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, said the recommendations are essential — even if the vote is “symbolic.”
He said while lawmakers can’t make the health board take up the issue, there’s no reason to believe they won’t.
“Now that we’ve given them the nudge, I’m just hopeful that they’ll be willing,” Loring said.
Enid News & Eagle Reporter Mitchell Willetts contributed to this report.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.