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Green Gold Rush: Medical marijuana becomes Oklahoma's new cash crop

Cost of marijuana license
Posted at 9:22 PM, Feb 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-20 13:53:09-04

TULSA, Okla. — Those in the know in Oklahoma's medical marijuana industry expect sales to cross the 10-figure threshold in 2021. A portion of those blooming sales is growing the state's tax dollars.

“We will be a $1 billion market," Chip Paul, OK4U Approved executive director, said. "We will have $70 million in tax money coming in.”

Paul's program works with medical marijuana patients to find safe and effective organic pharmaceutical alternatives.

Paul and his wife grew OK4U Approved after helping draft the bill to make it possible. Nearly 57 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788 to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2018.

Thousands across the Sooner State lined up for licenses. 190,000 Oklahomans registered for medical cannabis in year one. That number is now doubled.

"Honestly, the rate of applications really has not slowed down," Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority Director Dr. Kelly Williams said.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, the slice of Sooner State citizens licensed to buy and use medical marijuana is larger than in any other state.

Nearly 8 percent of Oklahomans hold medical cannabis cards. The next largest portions are in Maine and California, both with slightly less than 5 percent.

READ MORE: Green Gold Rush: Medical marijuana industry booming in Oklahoma

"That's why our program has taken off. That's why it's flown," Paul said. "That's why it's flourished the way that it has."

State and local governments in Oklahoma are making a pretty penny of medical cannabis sales.

Oklahoma state sales tax is 4.5 percent, plus there is a 7 percent excise tax laid out in SQ788 on cannabis products bought at dispensaries.

The OMMA reports just over $240,000 in tax revenue in 4Q 2018. In 2019, the state reported almost $55 million. The cash crop continues its climb with 2020 tax totals near $128 million.

"That money goes to the Department of Health, and they're supposed to use that money, per budget, to run their department," Paul said.

Paul told 2 Works for You Investigates, he wrote that into law in the lens of a $100 million industry. So far, the plant program is proving him wrong.

"We will 10x that, right, in 2021," Paul said.

The OMMA said about $25 million of that tax revenue funds their program.

Its director, Dr. Williams, told 2 Works for You, $30 million in excise tax money was spent on drug education in schools, last year. She said an additional $10 million was used to help fund state drug rehabilitation centers.

Paul said it is about time legislators got their hands on the abundance of bud money.

But, local dispensaries worry greed is growing from all this green.

"Right now, it feels like everybody's got their hands in the cookie jar," Tony Rodriguez, owner of Harvest Health Dispensary in Sand Springs, Okla., said.

Taxes on the patient could turn on the provider.

State partner track-and-trace program, METRC, is starting its system in Oklahoma, this month. The company charges a $.45 fee for tracking tags tied to each plant.

"This guy wants to add a little bit of tax here, that guy wants to add a little bit of tax there...when you start adding all these entities up it falls back to the grower or to the dispensary that has to inevitably pass it back to the consumer," Rodriguez said.

That is not all the money the state and its partners stand to make from medical cannabis.

The state charges $100 for each patient license and $2,500 for every business license. In total, the state has brought in almost $63 million in active license fees.

An OMMA spokesperson told 2 Works for You, the license money goes to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The spokesperson said the legislature borrowed money from the fund last year, needed more money from COVID spending, and shifted it into the state's education fund.

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