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State legislation aims to strengthen Oklahoma's medical marijuana regulations

Oklahoma legislative leaders form 13-member marijuana panel
Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 10:01:34-04

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma's medical marijuana industry is growing beyond initial expectations.

In under three years, more than 10,500 businesses cropped up around the state. Nearly 400,000 Oklahomans hold medical marijuana cards. State legislators fear the cannabis consumer business is out ahead of the governing powers to enforce it.

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"My goals are always to make sure that consumers have a safe product, businesses have opportunities to make the profit margins they need to exist, and we kill the black market," Rep. Scott Fetgatter, (R) Okmulgee, Oklahoma, said.

Since Oklahoma voters approved medical marijuana in 2018 – Fetgatter has been at the forefront of every significant cannabis discussion in the state legislature.

During this legislative session, he introduced three bills and has his hands in more from the senate chamber.

He authored House Bill 2004, a near 200-page collection of legislation covering everything from decriminalizing marijuana possession to expanding the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority's enforcement powers.

He also filed HB 2022 and HB 2023, which allow non-Oklahoma residents to apply for patient licenses and businesses to transfer licenses to another owner.

"I believe all my bills are dead in the senate," Fetgatter said.

The house chamber approved all three bills, but they are stuck in senate committee, and Fetgatter believes they will never see the light of day.

However, two separate bills with similar language to his legislation recently passed through the legislature, and Fetgatter is targeting a third bill from the senate to include text from HB 2004.

"I plan by the end of this session to either have the problems fixed or some sort of commitment as to the direction that the OMMA is heading in," he said.

"We are mature enough as an agency now to know what tools we've been missing," OMMA Director Dr. Kelly Williams said.

Williams is OMMA's third director in the program's less than three years of existence. She admits it's been a struggle out the gatekeeping up with the ever-expanding business.

“It can certainly be difficult to make sure that we have the staffing and the expertise needed in such a young industry that's grown so dramatically," she said.

"They are not given the tools needed and necessary to do their job," Fetgatter said.

Many of those tools Fetgatter and Williams would like to see put to use are included in HB 2646. The OMMA Request Bill grants the governing body just what the last word in its name says - authority.

If signed into law, OMMA could recall contaminated cannabis products and deny new or additional licenses to businesses that previously had their suspended or revoked. In another measure, HB 2272, OMMA can suspend the license of a dispensary, grower, or processor that does not prove the existence of foreign ownership within 60 days of application approval.

"There are a lot of things that we need in our regulator's toolbox, and we need to have those things available to us," Williams said.

Fetgatter said OMMA better get to work if legislators and the governor decide to fill that toolbox.

"I just want OMMA to do their job," he said.

Fetgatter believes their job is not being done well enough due to limited staff and the inability to do timely inspections of growers and dispensaries.

He plans to add to Senate Bill 1033, which currently focuses on dispensary distance from school and license transfers, to push OMMA to get those inspections done.

"I plan to light the fire," Fetgatter said.

Williams told 2 Works for You, OMMA recently hired 11 more inspectors and plans to triple or quadruple its field crew.

Fetgatter said a lot of the problem comes with OMMA operating under the State Department of Health. HB 2674, authored by Oklahoma House Speaker Jon Echols, would move OMMA under the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.

Fetgatter said this would make the agency a higher priority.

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