Interim Director: State health dept. ‘not equipped’ to implement medical marijuana law if passed

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The interim director of the state health department says the agency isn't equipped to roll out the medical marijuana law if it's passed by voters at the ballot box this summer.

State Question 788, which would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, was scheduled by the governor last week for the June primary. On Tuesday, the head of the agency tasked with implementing the law said the state health department is in no position to do so, as it faces allegations of financial mismanagement and several ongoing investigations.

"This agency is not going to be equipped to implement the requirements its charged with if that law were to pass," said Preston Doerflinger, the Oklahoma State Department of Health's interim director.

The road to legalize marijuana for medical use in the state has been a long one, dating back several years. As the proposed law stands, the OSDH would be tasked with licensing for recipients, dispensaries, growers and packagers within 30 days of passage. A timeline, Doerflinger says, the agency is not prepared to meet.

"We began having some questions with members of the legislature, with the governor’s office. Just the turnaround, with anybody, would be difficult. But for this agency, it would be next to impossible for us to be able to get ready to carry out what we’re charged with, under the way it’s currently designed.”

There have been questions as to the length it took for SQ 788 to be scheduled and the date of its scheduling, as it relates to voter turnout -- a primary versus a general election.

"Why June, why not the fall?" I asked Gov. Mary Fallin Friday.

"We just decided to put it on earlier so we can get things finished. Focus on the year and be able to deal with the budget and the various issues we have in hand," Fallin replied. "You may have more people show up in June to vote. There’s the flip side of the coin, more people may come out and vote in the primaries, which is also a good thing too."

If passed into law, Doerflinger said another state agency might be better equipped to handle the implementation -- from licensing to tax collection -- such as the tax commission.

Doerflinger took over the helm of the agency after the previous commissioner, Terry Cline, resigned after accusations of financial mismanagement at the health department came to light last fall. On Tuesday, the health department board approved a $189,000 salary for Doerflinger to serve on an interim basis; which is about an $18,000 pay raise from his current position as the state's finance secretary.

The department of health is facing a number of investigations, both at the state and federal level. Last Monday, the agency released a report detailing problems at the state agency and how it plans to address them.

"In general, I think there’s a sense of leaning more towards stability," said Doerflinger, "and the positive steps we can take to position the agency in the best way possible and restore the public’s trust in this agency."