Cherokee Nation changes Human Resources marijuana policy
The 2020 Oklahoma legislative session begins Feb. 3. Some bills concerning medical marijuana have been submitted, but a number of lawmakers believe changing the medical cannabis laws will not be a priority this year. OKLAHOMA ARTS COUNCIL
TAHLEQUAH – With the legalization of medical marijuana in Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation found itself facing some ambiguity.
Medical cannabis was legal within the CN’s jurisdiction, but under federal laws followed by the tribe, marijuana remained illegal in all its forms. Some tribal citizens were uncertain of CN policy concerning hiring or employment of people holding medical marijuana licenses.
On Jan. 21, the CN announced an adjustment to the Human Resources policy toward medical marijuana: Those with licenses are protected.
“Landscapes are changing and the Cherokee Nation needed to modernize its HR policies to reflect those changes,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., who signed the adjusted policy on Jan. 15. “I am pleased to announce this change in policy, and I am committed to ensuring that we support all valid medical prescriptions.”
Under the new guideline, those holding medical marijuana licenses can obtain and retain employment with the CN should any drug screenings test positive for cannabis. However, per federal law, it remains illegal to use or possess cannabis on any tribally owned property.
Chief of Staff Todd Enlow said the drug screening accommodation of medical marijuana license holders removes a hiring disadvantage.
“Cherokee Nation is leading the way to ensure equal treatment for all valid medical prescriptions,” Enlow said. “We care about the overall health and well-being of our employees, and our policies should reflect our focus on employee health.”
At the state level, some Republicans are claiming the current regulation regime is too lenient. Bills filed before the Feb. 3 start of the legislative session call for bans on billboard advertising for medical marijuana, greater transparency in the cannabis program and greater limits to where dispensaries can be sited.
State Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, submitted a bill to disallow any new dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a church or other house of worship. Dispensaries already established would not be subject to the law.
State Sen. Roger Thompson, R-Okemah and Senate Appropriations Committee chair, filed legislation to establish a medical marijuana tax fund that lawmakers would use to allot money to the Medical Marijuana Authority. Currently, revenue is sent directly to the MMA.
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, said he did not anticipate major waves in Oklahoma’s marijuana laws during the 2020 session.
State Rep. Matt Meredith, D-Tahlequah, said Echols supported the current regulation of medical marijuana, and any bills calling for drastic changes might have trouble reaching the House floor.
“People voted for that bill (State Question 788) and whether I agree or not doesn’t matter,” Meredith said. “The people spoke and I will follow their will – especially here in Cherokee County where it passed pretty handily.”
Meredith said notifications were arriving for more than 2,000 bills submitted, and the sorting would take time.
“I know there are some marijuana bills out there, including a couple where big corporations might push out the little guys,” he said. “I definitely don’t support that. I would say that this has been a good first year (for medical marijuana) overall. Like anything, the first year is also the roughest, but then you start to see the benefits. I think we will see even more benefits revenue-wise over the next several years.”
State Sen. Dewayne Pemberton, R-Muskogee, mentioned the “Unity Bill” of 2019, which lawmakers passed to put up the regulatory regimen for medical marijuana, and with the understanding it would be spared major adjustments and allow some time for assessment.
Pemberton was not familiar with Thompson’s bill, but said he soon would be as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He believed Olsen’s bill would have minimal impact if it passed.
“I’ve had some of my constituents ask about a dispensary being within 1,000 feet of a church,” Pemberton said. “I wouldn’t have problem with Olsen’s bill and I think it is common sense. It doesn’t affect the dispensaries that are already there, and I think those that will be put up are already up. It wouldn’t be a major shakeup.”
With 2020 being an election year, Pemberton expects a “policy session” at the state Capitol that avoids controversial legislation. He anticipates education being a hotter topic than marijuana.
“You already see it with less bills being filed this year,” he said. “It will concentrate on there not being a lot of new money to spread around. Oil and gas have shrunk a little bit. I don’t think we will be cutting anything, but it will be a flat budget.”