By Alyssa Sperrazza
Oklahoma’s growing medical marijuana industry will now have new state regulations to follow under House Bill 2612 which has been sent to the governor’s desk.
The Senate voted Monday, 43-5, for the measure known as the “unity bill” to pass. The bill was supported by various factions of the cannabis industry and the governor is expected to sign the bill, according to his office.
The bill primarily focuses on providing regulations and clarifying rights for medical marijuana licensees. Other parts of the bill include the allowance of testing which would be done under the Department of Health. The DOH would be given the responsibility to perform on-site assessments, assess monetary penalties and provide disciplinary action for violations.
For Yukon’s Herb’N Out owner Codi Flynn, he said he hopes Governor Stitt vetoes the bill.
“We are familiar with [HB 2612],” Flynn said. “We haven’t read through [all the medical marijuana-related bills] completely but [HB 2612] takes power away from the people and it just doesn’t go along with what we asked for when the state question was passed.”
The bill would require medical marijuana businesses to keep records for transactions and would use a seed-to-sale tracking system. Seed-to-sale tracking systems would include businesses, product types, batch numbers of plants used, financial details and any other information required by the health department.
Should the governor sign the bill, the Medical Marijuana Authority, created by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, will work to fulfill all the new regulations required by the law.
Adrienne Rollins, the director of the medical marijuana authority, said the department is actively involved and has been following the bill and others as they go through the legislature, making sure to be aware of any changes coming the department’s way.
“Our legislative liaison is always actively engaged on any legislation that has to do with the health department,” Rollins said. “As far as operations go, we will ensure that we meet all those obligations that are put into the law by the governor. I believe our legislative liaison was a part of some of the conversations, and ongoing, but there was definitely a lot of folks early on that helped to draft the bill.”
The Medical Marijuana Authority was established through the DOH’s emergency rule making and approved by the board of health immediately after the passage of State Question 788. Rollins said they had begun preparing for the passage of the state question last April, making sure that when it passed, they’d be able to meet the 60-day rule to open applications.
“After the 60th day after passage, we went live with applications for patients, caregivers and three businesses types: commercial growth, dispensaries and processors,” Rollins said.
“On the first day, we had well over a 1,000 applications submitted. And not quite past 6 months, we were at almost 77,000 patients and 4,000 businesses so about 80,000 total applications. We approved about 75,000 at that time. We’re definitely very on top of that 14-day mandate.”
While the medical marijuana laws were being enacted, Rollins said the DOH and the medical marijuana authority did their research, trying to gauge just how many applications they could see initially.
“In our planning, we looked at various states and we looked at different comparisons around population size and factored in the open side of our medical marijuana,” Rollins said. “Many states, most states, have specific conditions, which I think drive their numbers down, but our state is really open to all conditions for consideration. It’s really up to the physician to make that determination and because of that, I think our numbers are a lot higher than other states.”
Rollins said the DOH predicted 80,000 within the first year, but now just over six months in, they have met that expectation already.
“We definitely underestimated the volume on patient numbers but we’ve been able to adjust,” Rollins said. “In September, we were averaging 1,200 to 1,500 per week. In December, we saw a jump and in January we saw a jump, so now we are averaging a little over 5,000 applications a week.”
If this new legislation is signed by Governor Stitt, Rollins said the DOH will continue adjusting staff sizing as needed to continue meeting the requirements laid out by law.
“With any new legislation, we’re going to have to look at our staffing needs,” Rollins said.
“There are definitely a few pieces that would require us to have additional staff. Right now we utilize personnel contracts to help us maintain our staffing levels so we increase staff as we need to and make changes as we need to. It takes about three weeks to train new staff persons where they’re processing applications at a rate of over 100 per day so I imagine, as we get a little further down the road, with the program being a little more established, we’ll be able to have a firm staffing structure.”