TULSA, Okla. — Hot off the heels of full marijuana legalization in New Jersey, many in Oklahoma wonder if the state's medical industry will go recreational.
The Sooner State grew to house the most medical marijuana dispensaries in the country in less than three years. Businesses and the government are seeing significant profits — nearly $1 billion in cannabis sales.
The prospect of becoming the 17th fully legal cannabis state is enticing to those in the bud business.
"Why not set ourselves up right in the middle of that?" Chip Paul, executive director of OK4U Approved, said.
Paul's organization works with medical marijuana patients and caregivers in Oklahoma. He helped pen language in State Question 788 — the measure passed by voters in 2018 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.
After SQ788 passed, Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R) of Okmulgee, Okla., took notice. Paul calls Fetgatter his "point man" in the state House of Representatives.
Fetgatter drafted and introduced two medical marijuana bills on the House floor, last week, and both were approved. Now, he is working on legislation to legalize cannabis for adult use.
"It at least starts a conversation," Fetgatter said.
"Recreation will probably happen," said Rep. Stan May (R) of Broken Arrow, Okla. "I can't see enough opposition to it. It may happen toward the end of the session."
May told 2 Works for You, he doesn't have a hard stand on recreational marijuana, but said he does believe the current medical marijuana program in Oklahoma needs to make further strides, like accurately detecting THC in a person's body, before moving toward adult use.
According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, more than 370,000 Oklahomans hold patient licenses.
Fetgatter told 2 Works for You, he sees an opportunity to grow the $195 million the state has generated from medical cannabis sales in less than three years.
Total sales are soaring toward $1 billion in the first quarter of 2021.
“If we went to a rec program, I could see that growing to a $2 billion or $3 billion industry," Fetgatter said.
Fetgatter's proposed legislation puts an 15-percent excise tax plus state and local sales tax on recreational cannabis purchases. Medical sales stay at seven percent excise tax with the chance for a reduction.
Rep. Randy Randleman (R) of Eufala, Okla. is a clinical doctor and child psychologist. He told 2 Works for You medical marijuana eases anxiety and ADHD symptoms in some of his clients, but he worries recreational legalization could lead to cannabis abuse in children.
"If you have a tendency to overuse it, it can be more damaging," Dr. Randleman said.
Findings from a study reported by the Colorado Department of Public Safety show higher marijuana use in children and teens after the state fully legalized cannabis in 2012.
The report also shows possible marijuana-related hospitalizations increased by almost 60 percent.
"If we don’t look at it the right way, I think that will kind of explode in a manner that’s going to cause more problems within the family," Dr. Randleman said.
But the perception of "great health risk" from marijuana use is actually trending down in the Rocky Mountain state, according to the report. Points of contention, like impaired driving caused by cannabis, are almost unchanged.
But the thought of a driver getting behind the wheel with THC in their system is enough to scare some off the road to recreational.
Fetgatter believes the pharmaceutical benefits and significant revenue stream in sight are the driving force behind his cannabis caravan. He said health and safety concerns will be addressed in the final legislation.
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