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Medical cannabis industry: No special session will mean uncertainty, unstable implementation

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Members of the medical cannabis industry are calling for Governor Mary Fallin to announce a special session following the passage of State Question 788 days after she announced it was not needed.

On Thursday, members with New Health Solutions Oklahoma released a four-page memo listing reasons they believed lawmakers should be called back to the Capitol. NHSO executive director Bud Scott said chief among them, was to bring clarity to Oklahomans who will depend on medical marijuana and business owners who plan to open dispensaries.

"If we don’t not address these through legislation, we are setting up the state department of health for program failure," Scott said. "No state program has been successful in developing their program in less than nine months and we’re asking these guys to do in two months with absolutely no political support or cover. That’s unacceptable."

At a press conference Thursday, Scott said State Question 788 was only meant to be an "outline" and that there were several critical components the state question did not cover including the establishment of laboratories and inventory tracking systems.

"Inventory tracking systems are typically referred to as ‘seed to sale’ programs. These are the cornerstones of any regulatory program that you’ve seen in another state with successful implementation," he said. "These are the programs that marijuana cultivated from the time it’s part of the plant until it reaches the hands of the patient. It’s what prevents any black market proliferation. It’s what actually provides us with guidance in knowing how these products are moving through the system."

However, Scott said these kind of programs must be regulated through statute rather than agency rules. The Oklahoma State Department (OSDH) has drafted more than 60 pages of emergency rules, including definitions and required recommendations for marijuana license applications. The rules will have to be approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Health on July 10.

Initially, Governor Fallin said she intended to call a special session if the state question passed. However, last Friday, Fallin announced it was not necessary.

A statement from her office read:

“After conferring with House and Senate leaders, we believe a special legislative session is not necessary to implement provisions of State Question 788. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has developed emergency rules that will ensure the health and safety of Oklahomans as well as being fair and balanced for the marijuana industry. The Health Department has been working with other agencies the past several months to develop a medical and proper regulatory framework to make sure marijuana use is truly for valid medical reasons. The voters have spoken, and it’s important that our state has a responsible system up and running to meet the deadlines outlined in State Question 788. If circumstances develop that adjustments to the Health Department rules are necessary, those can be addressed when lawmakers return in regular session early next year.”

Business owners who hope to bring dispensaries to Oklahoma, including Brooklyn Green Clopton, told News 4 they now find themselves in limbo. Green Clopton said potential investors need to be protected.

"We believe it’s risky for people to get involved if this system isn’t properly regulated, because the businesses could under and we don’t want people losing money," she said. "I’d like to know how many dispensaries do we anticipate being available in each city? The cities may set up regulations later. I’d like us all to communicate about that now."

Scott claims the move to not call a special session is all politics.

"This is a statutory state question. It can come back and be completely throttled in 2019 legislative session and I would say that’s actually the intention of quite a few people – to push this off until that point and what happens in 2019? This is post-election. Nobody has their feet to the fire and there’s no repercussions for two years," he said. "This thing will be delayed as long as possible. All we have to do is look at Maine, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Alaska…let’s look at any of the other states. The years after their citizens approved this – have not been able to implement their programs."

News 4 reached out to Governor Fallin's office Thursday for comment.

Communications Director Michael McNutt with Fallin's office sent News 4 this statement Thursday evening:

"Nothing has changed. The governor’s office believes that asking the Legislature to pass comprehensive legislation in a special session is not realistic. The state question placed an accelerated implementation period upon the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which requires it to start the application process by July 26 and a legal framework for its decision-making by July 26 – just three weeks away. Emergency rules are the most promising path to success at this time. The Health Department has been working with 17 other agencies the past three months on emergency rules to develop a medical and proper regulatory framework for implementing State Question 788. This is much quicker and more cost-efficient than attempting to go through a special legislative session during an election cycle, and it is more likely to be successful in putting a framework in place in this very short time period and to get the process actually started as required by the law passed by the people.

In any event, the repeated calls for a difficult and costly special session are premature. The four pages of issues that the group lists today reflect a complicated and comprehensive approach. These issues have also been identified by these agencies, the governor, legislative leaders and other interested groups. Successfully dealing with them in an orderly fashion will take reasonable time and open debate. With all of the competing medical marijuana groups, it is highly unlikely that this group’s proposal will be rubber-stamped by the Legislature."