Industry shifts 

Nearly 100 legislative bills affecting the regulation of Oklahoma’s cannabis industry have been introduced this session.

Mason Pain

Photo provided

Mason Pain

This year’s legislative session saw the introduction of nearly 90 bills related to Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry. One bill has already been signed into law with many more potentially landing on the governor’s desk by the time they adjourn.

The growth of Oklahoma’s cannabis industry has largely been supported by loose regulation and easily obtained licenses. While some regulatory correction is inevitable and necessary, many proposals send panic and anxiety across the industry. Awareness of these rapidly shifting parameters is key whether you’re a business owner, a patient or simply an Oklahoman who has suddenly found themselves living in the country’s cannabis epicenter.

In 2021, Oklahoma was responsible for 50 percent of the grow licenses issued in the entire nation. Moreover, that same year the state became home to a quarter of the country’s new dispensary licenses. This momentum may be paused this year however, as legislators are looking closely at the way the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority approaches cannabis business licensing.

House Bill 3208 proposes a temporary moratorium on business licensing altogether starting Aug. 1. The prohibition would remain in effect until August 2024, or until the OMMA’s executive director decides to end the discretionary moratorium. Applications received before Aug. 1 would still be reviewed and processed, and business license transfers would still be allowed under the provision, keeping access to the industry open through the acquisition of an active, existing license.

Other proposed changes to the licensing process could affect access to the industry even without a moratorium. Senate Bill 1697 would require commercial grow applicants to pay an application bond of at least $25,000 or more at the time of submission, increasing the application costs for commercial grow licenses. Additionally, House Bill 3736 creates a temporary license for all business types issued prior to an annual license being issued. Temporary licenses would be conditional and valid for 180 days. Commercial business applicants would need to meet a list of requirements in order to be issued an annual license. Temporary licenses add $1,000 to the licensing process and do not guarantee that the applicant will be issued an annual license.

The legislature also looks set to ramp up OMMA and local law enforcement authority and capacities. House Bill 4411 deletes the limitation on how many inspections can occur in a calendar year. Previously, a licensed cannabis business would be limited to two unless there was a reason for further inspections. Increased visibility creates increased liability and all active licensees would be wise to start focusing on compliance like their license depends on it, because it most certainly does.

Senate Bill 1841 directs OMMA to suspend or revoke licensees found to be in violation of any state law, local ordinance or regulation applicable to a medical marijuana business, including inaccurate reporting.

The regulatory task force could also be expanded, allowing the authorities to carry out their commitment to enforcing current and upcoming regulation. Under House Bill 3813, the Senior Director of Enforcement and OMMA investigators would now be authorized to assist law enforcement in arresting violators or suspected violators of the law and seizing marijuana products.

With more feet on the ground comes more funding — House Bill 3530 proposes allocating the first $5 million in marijuana excise tax for the funding of a newly established “County Sheriff Public Safety Grant Revolving Fund.” HB 3530 also directs OMMA to utilize the fund to establish programs assisting county sheriffs in enforcing medical marijuana laws.

The bill that’s getting the most buzz at the moment is House Bill 4287, also known as the pre-packaged cannabis bill. HB 4287 would require growers to sell flower to dispensaries and processors in pre-packaged form, in amounts no less than half a gram and no more than three ounces. This would ultimately translate into additional packaging and labor costs for growers and patients. Patients could still smell unpackaged cannabis from sample jars, but matching those terpenes to the content in prepack falls short of serving as a true example of the pre-packaged contents. While samples could easily be refreshed, prepackaged cannabis can age on the shelf while sample jars rotate with false promises. This bill would deal a huge blow to the remaining deli-style dispensary experiences in Oklahoma, but unfortunately, it may be found necessary to adequately account for cannabis as the state implements the new seed-to-sale regime and mandates the METRC tracking program.

Common sense proposals that affect multiple aspects of business compliance are also making their way through the legislature. House Bill 3827 would require outdoor grows to register with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry as an environmentally sensitive crop owner. The goal of HB 3827 is to minimize pesticide drift and erroneous crop dusting– which has been a real issue in rural areas where traditional and cannabis agriculture meet. Senate Bill 1737 takes self-identification a bit further, requiring grows to have easy-to-read signage posted at each licensed property entrance with their business license number and phone number. This type of signage may initially seem to further expose grows, but it is commonplace in other legal states and can help with emergency identification and license verification.

Senate Bill 1219 would require edibles to be in the shape of a marijuana leaf and packaged in see-through containers. While it might seem like a ridiculous method of reducing the number of people accidentally ingesting cannabis, it would affect how every processor manufactures and packages their product.

It’s hard to label a bill as strictly good or bad, as there are several nuanced considerations for each proposal. One of the most important parts of following a legislative session is in the awareness of what’s happening, what could change and when. The easiest way for a cannabis business to be caught out of compliance, or a patient to not take full advantage of their rights, is by not being aware of the law. Awareness of these proposed laws also allows you to participate, to support or speak up for the preservation of what you believe Oklahoma cannabis can and should be.

Almost all of this session’s bills are still up for a vote, so there is still time to contact your legislator with your thoughts on each matter, with the session adjourning no later than May 27.

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Mason Pain

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