OKLAHOMA CITY - When Oklahoma voters approved medicinal marijuana, it was projected, in its first year, there would be between 40,000 and 80,000 users.
In about six months, our state has more than 65,000 cardholders. Plus, officials with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) said they went from receiving about 1,200 applications a week in September to about 5,000 a week today.
The high volume of incoming applications caused a shuffle of resources that temporarily eliminates a well-used customer service.
"We focused our staff efforts on processing those applications," said Melissa Miller with the OMMA. "So, we’ve temporarily shut down the call center to make sure we can process those applications in a timely manner."
Their policy is to respond to emails, requests and applications within 14 calendar days. To make sure they reach that goal for the thousands of existing and new cardholders and applicants, they took the 3-5 employees that worked the phones and assigned them to process applications full-time.
The call center took about 1,000 calls a week.
It was closed in early February. Shifting those employees' assignments allows them to respond to 300-500 more applications daily.
Miller said the OMMA also hired additional staff to address the growing demand.
"The lack of efficiency that the OMMA is working at is causing a lot of problems for a lot of dispensaries," said Jerry Flowers, owner of Urban Wellness Dispensary in Edmond. "It's creating a little bottleneck."
Flowers said the change has his phones ringing with questions about licensing with patients who don't know who to ask.
"Sometimes, they're calling us to get answers normally they'd depend on the OMMA to provide," he said. "We’re spending more time going over applications with the patients and we can't service them, of course, until they get their card."
Miller said the majority of the questions were inquiries about application status. She said, despite the closure, people can still get their questions answered.
"If you're looking for an update on your application status, those are automatically sent by email, please allow 14 calendar days after each submission," she said. "We also do have a how-to step by step video tutorial on our website under the Help tab."
For customers whose applications were approved but never received, the OMMA can be reached at OMMApatients@OK.gov.
Flowers said the closure of the call center is particularly restricting for customers who may not be as web-savvy.
"A good portion of our patients are over 60, they don’t surf the web, but the OMMA requires them to do everything online," he said. "It's a little frustrating for us and for the patients."
Miller adds the closure is temporary.
"We do understand sometimes people would like to talk to someone on the phone," she said. "So, we’re working to get back to a place where we can have that call center available."