Oklahoma health official: Rules ready for medical marijuana

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
06/28/2018 12:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Tom Bates, Oklahoma’s interim health commissioner, speaks during a June 27 news conference in Oklahoma City. Bates said the state’s Department of Health would be ready to implement a new law allowing medical marijuana. SUE OGROCKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – The head of Oklahoma’s health agency said on June 27 there’s a framework in place to get the medical marijuana industry rolling in the state soon, despite concerns from Gov. Mary Fallin that a statewide vote “opens the door” for recreational use.

Oklahoma voters easily approved a state question on June 26 allowing cannabis to be used as medicine in the traditionally conservative state. The measure says applications for a medical marijuana license must be available on the agency’s website within 30 days of the measure’s passage. A regulatory office to receive applications for medical marijuana licenses, recipients and dispensary growers must be operating within 60 days.

Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates said the Oklahoma Department of Health has been developing proposed rules and regulations in case the medical marijuana program was approved by voters since he was named to the post on April 1. He said the agency is prepared “to implement a medical marijuana model as required by the state question.”

“We do have a lot to take care of in a tight timeframe,” Bates said.

Bates said state health officials would meet July 10 to consider emergency rules for the new Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Application information and requirements will be available on the agency’s website by July 26, and applications will be accepted by Aug. 25.

Oklahoma’s was the first marijuana question on a state ballot in the U.S. in 2018, with elections scheduled for later this year in Michigan and Utah. Voters in neighboring Arkansas legalized the drug for medical use in 2016, but Oklahoma is among the most conservative states to approve its use.

Voters came out in droves in Oklahoma to weigh in on the issue, which made it onto the ballot through a signature drive. The Oklahoma State Election Board says more votes were cast on the marijuana question than in the 2014 general election.

In Oklahoma City, 33-year-old Meaghan Hunt said she cast her vote in favor of legalization because she views marijuana as another form of treatment for patients with various ailments. She said she wants them to have as many options as possible.

She also believes state coffers could benefit from the cash marijuana crops would deliver.

“I’d like to see more taxable revenue coming into our state and if that’s an opportunity to collect taxes, all the better — hopefully for education,” Hunt said.

The term-limited Fallin said before the vote that she would call lawmakers into a special session to develop rules to regulate the industry, but she toned down her comments after the election results were clear.

“I believe, as well as many Oklahomans, this new law is written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana,” Fallin, a Republican, said in a statement.

GOP state Senate leader Greg Treat said he doesn’t think members of his party, the majority, are interested in a special session.

“Whatever we do will just to be so make sure we don’t overturn the will of the people,” the president pro tempore-designate told reporters on June 27.

Attitudes have shifted sharply on marijuana in recent decades in Oklahoma, especially among young people, said Bill Shapard, a pollster who has surveyed Oklahomans on the issue for more than five years.

“I’ve found almost half of all Republicans support it,” Shapard said.

Oklahoma’s tough-on-crime ideology also has come at a cost, with the state’s skyrocketing prison population consuming a larger share of the state’s limited funding. In 2016, voters approved a state question to make any drug possession crime a misdemeanor, despite opposition to that proposal from law enforcement and prosecutors.

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