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Oklahoma State Board of Health to call special meeting regarding changes to medical marijuana rules

OKLAHOMA CITY – Officials say they will call a special meeting after the Oklahoma attorney general advised the state’s Board of Health to changes its rules regarding medical marijuana.

Last week, the Board of Health approved emergency rules on medical marijuana, with two specific exceptions.

Under the new emergency rules, smokable forms of medical marijuana would be banned from being sold in dispensaries. According to Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates, licensed medical marijuana users would still be allowed to use it if it was grown themselves.

“To allow smokable forms would be a step back as protectors of public health in Oklahoma and certainly reasonable people can differ on that,” Commissioner Bates said.

Late last week, two lawsuits were filed against the Oklahoma State Department of Health due to the rules.

On Monday, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said that his office would review the legal challenges to the agency's rules on State Question 788.

Just two days later, the attorney general's office announced that it was advising the State Board of Health to convene a special meeting to amend the rules it passed regulating medical marijuana.

Hunter said the rules are "inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788" and said the board "acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them."

Hunter said in a letter that the board should not be able to prohibit the sale of smokable marijuana, or require dispensaries to hire pharmacists.

Other concerns outlined in the letter to the board are as follows:

  • Restricting dispensaries to limited locations
  • Prohibiting dispensaries from co-locating with other businesses
  • Requiring medical marijuana be grown, processed and dispensed in enclosed structures
  • Requiring a surety bond for licensing
  • Setting hours of operation
  • Limiting the amount of THC in flower, leaf or concentrate for sale or distribution.

“I have no doubt that the board in good faith sought to regulate marijuana in a manner it believed would best promote the health and safety of Oklahomans,” the letter concludes. “However, in so doing, the board made policy judgments not authorized by statute. Such policy decisions are the exclusive prerogative of the legislature and the people.”

Hours after the attorney general's remarks, the president of the Oklahoma State Board of Health announced that it would call a special meeting to consider changes to the rules.

"The Board of Health appreciates the quick review by the Attorney General and acknowledges the advice and counsel regarding the prior adoption of emergency rules on State Question 788. The legal analysis by the Attorney General provides clarity on several rules and the legal authority we have to construct a regulatory framework for a state-wide medical marijuana program.

I have asked Commissioner Bates and his staff to make sure the appropriate modifications are made as outlined by the Attorney General in today’s correspondence. The Board of Health will call a special meeting to consider these changes as soon as possible.

The OSDH staff has done an incredible job to prepare for implementation of this program and we want to make sure they have clear direction to meet the deadlines outlined in the state question and administer this new program," Tim Starkey, president of the board, said in a statement.

Senate Democrats are calling on the governor to change course and call a special session.

“The Senate Democratic Caucus urges Governor Fallin to call the legislature into special session to address issues related to medical marijuana. Today’s letter from Attorney General Mike Hunter to Health Department Interim Director Tom Bates clearly concludes that the Board of Health approved medical marijuana rules that exceed its statutory authority. The leadership of the Oklahoma Legislature will soon be convening a bipartisan working group to make recommendations regarding medical marijuana regulations. The legislature should convene in special session without delay to consider the working group’s recommendations. As elected legislators, it is our constitutional duty to carry out the will of the people," said Senate Democratic Leader John Sparks.