Oklahoma currently boasts one of the largest and most successful medical marijuana industries in the entire US, but the market is growing so fast that regulators are struggling to catch up.
Adria Berry, the new director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA), just announced that the agency plans to implement some serious changes in order to catch up on inspections and safety regulations. “We can’t change where we came from, but we can definitely change where we’re going,” said Berry to News On 6. “So, from this point on, it is a hard reset.”
Oklahoma's medical pot market has grown leaps and bounds since voters approved a legalization ballot measure in 2018. This new law is especially unique as it allows doctors to recommend medical pot to treat any condition, rather than imposing a list of specific qualifying conditions. By the start of 2020, 220,000 Oklahomans - 1/13th of the state’s entire population - had registered with the program, and by last December, that number grew to 365,000.
Last year, the Sooner State led the US with the highest number of per-capita medical cannabis dispensaries, with 56 stores for every 100,000 residents. One small town with a population of only 92,000 residents even has more per-capita pot dispensaries than Denver, a city of over 700,000 people. As the total number of patients and dispensaries expands, sales are too. Last year, the state broke records with retail sales of over $70 million in a month, reaching a total of over $831 million in sales by year’s end.
There are now 8,857 licensed cultivators and 2,415 dispensaries currently operating in the state, and new business applications are rolling in every day. Ensuring that each and every one of these businesses is complying with state cannabis regulations is a mammoth task, but the OMMA has so far been woefully unequipped to handle this role. As of last month, the agency had only inspected less than 40 percent of these businesses.
“We absolutely do not have enough compliance inspectors on staff to keep up with the growth of the license numbers we’ve seen,” said Berry, who is the fourth person to take on the role of OMMA director since the program began, to News On 6. “We’ve had a 25% increase in industry license applications in the last year.”
To resolve the backlog, Berry intends to hire 40 new inspectors to perform compliance checks on existing and new businesses. At present, the agency employs less than two dozen inspectors. The OMMA will also hear complaints from local agricultural groups, who are urging regulators to increase license fees on legal weed growers in order to slow down the rapid expansion of this new industry.
But although the agency is definitely taking steps to reign in its wildly expanding weed industry, regulators do not want to discourage entrepreneurs from starting new businesses.
“We are a very business-friendly state, always have been, and will continue to be,” said OMMA Deputy Director Barrett Brown to News On 6. “What we do want to ensure is that those businesses who do start are doing it the right way and are following the right regulations, and that’s what we’re staffing up to ensure.”