Medical marijuana working group holds first meeting

OKLAHOMA CITY - A legislative working group on medical marijuana held its first meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The working group, including nine Republicans and four Democrats, consists of members from both the Oklahoma House and Senate. Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, are serving as co-chairs with plans for weekly open meetings, pledging transparency throughout the process.

"There are a lot of people who want to be in here because they do not trust the Legislature and in all honesty, we may have earned that," said Sen. McCortney.

The goal is to create recommendations for a permanent regulatory framework to implement the medical marijuana program following the passage of State Question 788.

Four groups were invited to present at Wednesday's meeting: Green the Vote, Oklahomans For Health, Oklahomans For Cannabis, and New Health Solutions Oklahoma.

Shawn Jenkins spoke to the working group from the perspective of patients.

"When we're talking about non-smokeable forms, obviously the two amendments that were put forth by the Oklahoma Board of Health is something we can't agree with whatsoever," Jenkins said.

He said he agreed with about 95 percent of the emergency rules initially recommended by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, though it lacked crucial components related to patients' rights.

"It's already been noted that there's really not going to be transportation available as far as going from a dispensary and from a patient's place of residence. Only in really extreme cases would that be allowed and only as a variance," he said. "If we look at safety as far as traffic roadways, if we also look at a compassionate stance for patients that might have a hard time getting out there, wouldn't it better to have an option to have to get this to the patients that are home?"

Other groups, such as the Tulsa-based organization Green the Vote, urged lawmakers to keep regulations in line with the spirit and language of State Question 788, voicing concerns regarding the risk of overregulation.

"Our worry is that regulations that are put forward are that employees would be regulated out of the industry if they had a felony on their record," said Isaac Caviness with Green the Vote.

Last week, New Health Solutions Oklahoma released its proposed regulations. Leaders with the group described the roughly 270-page proposal as a "working draft of legislation" to implement the approved state question.

"As the industry experts here, we are not just saying, 'Hey, there's a problem. We expect you to fix it.' What we're saying is, 'Here's a problem. Let's all work together and find that solution,'" said NSHO political director Jed Green.

According to Green, the proposal suggests practices modeled from other states' programs on medical marijuana including regulations on laboratories.

Ultimately, the groups said they were fighting for the patients in Oklahoma who are depending on medical marijuana. Speaking at a press conference hours before the meeting, veteran Cody Barlow shared his experience.

Barlow was recently medically discharged from the U.S. Navy. He has been diagnosed with PTSD among other disorders.

"Over the course of 2017, I averaged out the amount of pharmaceutical drugs that I had taken in pill form to be 9,000 for the year," Barlow said. "I was giving up hope that was supposed to help me and it wasn’t. I felt like I was reaching the bottom and I was ready to end it."

Despite hearing "horror stories" about cannabis, as he described it, Barlow eventually tried it in Colorado. He said it helped in ways other drugs could not.

"I felt more normal than anything. I felt balanced out. My racing thoughts had slowed down. My depression felt lifted. I felt like I was in the moment with my friends and family in the room, like I could function again," he said. "I felt so many different emotions. I was happy, I was excited but overall, I was angered because I was lied to my entire life about this being told it was a horrifying, negative thing — that it was just going to ruin your life. That there was no value to it."

The next meeting for this working group will be next Wednesday at 9 a.m.

OSDH says application information and requirements will be available online at omma.ok.gov by July 26; however, they will not receive or process
applications until August 25. For more information, click here.