Last month, Oklahoma residents took to the polls and cast their votes in favor of legalizing one of the country's most comprehensive medical cannabis programs. The original, voter-approved measure allowed any licensed physician to recommend medical marijuana to treat any condition, solely at the doctor's own discretion. The law also allowed registered patients to possess up to eight ounces of cannabis flower, which they would be free to smoke or use in any manner they otherwise desired.
Even though the state's voters clearly expressed their support for the law as written, conservative state legislators were thrown into a panic about this progressive law. Immediately following the vote, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin threatened to convene a special legislative session to impose additional restrictions on the program. Instead, Fallin chose to let the state Board of Health (BOH) handle the regulations. This week, the board narrowly passed a new set of temporary emergency regulations, which the governor signed into law on Wednesday.
"These rules are the best place to start in developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, with the highest priority given to the health and safety of Oklahomans," Gov. Fallin said in a statement. "Dealing with medical marijuana is unchartered territory for our state, and there are many opinions, including divisive views even among [supporters of the ballot measure], on how this should be implemented." Fallin acknowledged that "some citizens are not pleased with these actions," but also noted the temporary nature of these regulations, adding that "modifications could occur in the future."
The new regulations include a number of restrictions not present in the original law. Most notably, the regulations ban the sale of smokable cannabis, although individual patients are still allowed to grow their own plants. The new regulations also require all dispensaries to have a licensed pharmacist on staff, and all dispensary managers to undergo at least four hours of continuing education training per year. The Board of Health also imposed THC potency thresholds on several categories of products, limiting products available through dispensaries to 12% THC, and homegrown plants to 20% THC.
"We had been working in good faith with the Department of Health… We had been working really hard on trying to get these regulations right," Chip Paul, co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, who successfully collected the signatures necessary to place the legalization measure on the ballot, said at a recent press conference. "Yesterday, the Department of Health Board… just literally spit in our face."
"Government officials are not acting in good faith," NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a statement. "Not only are they undermining the will of the voters, but they are violating the spirit of the law in a manner that will be detrimental to the very patients this measure was intended to protect."
Drew Edmonson, who just won the Democratic primary for Oklahoma Governor, told Tulsa World that the regulations "represent yet another failure of government." Edmonson also pointed out that the rules would likely result in a legal challenge, much like Florida, where activists are suing the state for banning smokable forms of medical marijuana that were previously legalized by a popular vote from Sunshine State residents.
The state Health Department's general counsel, Julie Ezell, advised the Oklahoma Board of Health against adopting these new regulations, noting that they were leaving the state vulnerable to a legal challenge from the measure's backers. As expected, Chip Paul of Oklahomans for Health said that his group is considering the possibility.
"If the [health department] or the board or whoever's behind this thinks that we're going to take this, that is wrong, wrong, wrong thinking," Paul said. "We certainly will pursue our legal options here."