Mix of concerns, agreements on medical marijuana by working task force

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Lawmakers and pro-cannabis groups returned to the capitol on Wednesday for the second round of weekly meetings on medical marijuana.

Three groups were invited to speak Wednesday: Green the Vote, Oklahomans For Health, and New Health Solutions Oklahoma. The meeting, which lasted for more than four hours, was set up in a "question-answer" style with the groups serving as a panel.

Lawmakers on the working task force were given about 10 minutes to ask questions. Group co-chair Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, stated the "intent" of State Question 788 legalizing medical marijuana and the "reality" of it may be different things, raising the question of where dispensaries would be allowed to be open.

"Why are we in such a hurry knowing we’re about to mess this up?" Sen. McCortney asked. "Should a medical marijuana dispensary be allowed to open in a residential neighborhood inside a city in the state of Oklahoma?"

Chip Paul, one of the three original founders of Oklahomans For Health, authored State Question 788. He reassured marijuana dispensaries could not be opened in the middle of a neighborhood.

"I mean, it won’t be zoned that way, right? You could open a marijuana dispensary in a strip center provided that landlord gave you written permission," Paul answered.

The problem, according to Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, is that ordinances are not laws. Instead, they are passed by cities. Sen. Paxton said under the state question as written, there is gray area with what cities can and can't do.

"Whenever there is an ordinance written or a state law that is written, there’s a little hole in it somewhere — somebody tries to crawl through it," he said. "That’s why we’re concerned in the neighborhoods."

Ron Durbin, II, an attorney representing Green the Vote, said that was one of the questions he felt implied premise.

"I don’t think it was intentional, but one of the things we have to avoid in having this conversation is creating problems that don’t actually exist. Let’s regulate the issues that are there. There are plenty of them. We don’t need to regulate things that are some hypothetical, far off, conjured up idea to scare people," Durbin said.

Overall, Durbin told News 4 he was encouraged by the discussions that took place Wednesday.

"It’s very clear that the members of this committee have taken the time to read through 788, to read through what we propose with Green the Vote, what New Health Solutions proposed," he said.

Another issue raised Wednesday was regarding public safety. Sen. Paxton asked what tests police could use if they were to pull over someone suspected of impaired driving.

Paul admits it's an issue many states are currently dealing with.

"There’s really not a good answer yet. It’s a chance to lead, I say," he said. "There are tests, there are blood tests that potentially could work. There’s things in research that could definitely are being talked about that could be accurate in proper tests for impairment."

Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, house co-chair for the group, said he felt there were more agreements than disagreements between the pro-cannabis groups Wednesday.

"Everybody is concerned with implementing the will of the people exactly the way it’s implemented. We circled around some basic agreements, the idea that we need to have a cannabis commission whose job is it to regulate this entire industry," Rep. Echols said. "I think that was probably the biggest agreement that came out of this, because this needs to be long term solutions, not short term mandates."

The third meeting is August 8 at 9 a.m.