TULSA, Okla. — Cannabis is consuming the Sooner State as it appears Oklahomans can't get enough of the stuff.
Hundreds of thousands hold medical marijuana cards, and business is booming trying to keep up with demand.
"I had no idea," OK4U Approved Executive Director Chip Paul said.
OK4U Approved is an organization that promotes marijuana as a medical alternative to conventional pharmaceuticals.
"I don’t think anybody could’ve foreseen the success of the program," he said.
The budding billion-dollar business was once thought impossible in Oklahoma.
“The growth in the medical marijuana industry has surpassed pretty much anyone’s expectations," Dr. Kelly Williams, Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority interim director, said.
The OMMA oversees the medical marijuana program in the state.
The state and retailers told 2 Works for You they anticipated 80,000 patient licenses in year one. However, in 2019, the OMMA issued 190,000 cards and, as of today, it's issued almost 400,000 cards.
“I don’t see any indicators on my end that anything is about to slow down," Dr. Williams said.
The blossoming industry generated $800,000 in sales in 2020.
Paul drafted State Question 788, the law Oklahomans voted for in 2018 to legalize medical cannabis. Paul said the market will surpass the billion-dollar mark this year.
"We will absolutely have the best medical marijuana program in the country," he said.
According to the OMMA, over 2,000 dispensaries are licensed to sell in Oklahoma. That's more than in any other state.
"If you drive around town or anywhere in the state, you're going to see a lot of dispensaries," Taras Filenko, CEO of Seed Cannabis Co., said.
Nationally, Moore, Okla. and Edmond, Okla. rank in the top ten among cities with the most dispensaries per capita. Tulsa is ranked 17th.
An open opportunity two years ago is now a cutthroat competition.
"Eventually, at some point, we're not all going to be here," Filenko said. "May the best group win."
Filenko opened his dispensary near 6th St. and Peoria in Feburary 2019. Seed just opened its third location. Three cannabis stores in a sea of almost 500 in Tulsa County.
"We're not all going to survive," Filenko said. "We hope to be one of the survivors."
Dispensaries come in all shapes and sizes like the buds they sell. Seed isn't the largest dispensary in Oklahoma, but it holds solid ground in Green Country.
In Sand Springs, OK, Harvest Health Dispensary is a family-owned operation that grows, cultivates, and sells its cannabis all by itself.
"That's what we're all about," Tony Rodriguez, owner of Harvest Health Dispensary, said. "A very family-oriented company."
Rodriguez, his wife Lana, and son Dalton opened the dispensary two years ago. The trio raise the plant from soil to shelf with help from some planters and tenders.
The family operation has three flower rooms, which is half as many as the grower used by Seed Cannabis Co.
The Rodriguez family's smaller scale can't match the larger competition. So, in order to stand out in the crowded cannabis industry, Rodriguez remembers why he joined the fray in the first place.
He told 2 Works for You, a close family member suffers seizures and cannabis tames the episodes.
"We put her on that and it was just a huge change in her total demeanor," Rodriguez said.
He calls his dispensary an organic pharmacy, first. His goal is to improve the lives of his patients.
"It's not about selling it. It's about what the customer actually needs to overcome whatever deficiencies they have in life," Rodriguez said.
Paul said he wrote the medical marijuana legislation to allow for a free marketplace. There is no cap on retailers and the cost to start is lower in Oklahoma than any other state.
In the Sooner State, it costs $2,500 for a business license. In comparison, Colorado dispensaries need to fork over $4,000 for a license. In neighboring Arkansas, the price is $100,000.
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