Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – There is an old adage from Oklahoma’s favorite son, Will Rogers. He commented sagely on the state’s utterly unpredictable weather patterns. Many Okies know it by heart:
“If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute.”
Updated for current events, he might say:
If you don’t like the status of medical marijuana in Oklahoma, wait a minute.
On Monday (July 9), the Sooner State’s medical professionals, through their association, asked for significant regulation of access to marijuana, including a ban on smoking it.
On Tuesday (July 10), the state Department of Health narrowly approved (on a 5-4 vote of its governing commission) to create a rules structure for the provisions of State Question 788. Rules of some sort are required because voters gave comfortable approval to S.Q. 788 on June 26. — but implementation of the ballot initiative lies ahead.
On Wednesday (July 11), word spread like wildfire that Governor Mary Fallin had quickly affixed her signature to the Health Department rules.
Today (Thursday, July 12), the leadership of the state Legislature announced formation of a bi-partisan working group of House and Senate members to work “with all medical marijuana stakeholders to determine a path forward for implemention.”
Come tomorrow, who knows what might make the headlines?
To sketch the details:
On Monday, the Oklahoma state Medical Association asked the Board which governs the Department of Health for rules “1. Eliminating smokable cannabis as is the case in other states. Instead, dispensaries should only offer medical marijuana products that are more easily measured for doses, such as certain edibles, oils and sublingual delivery methods. 2. Requiring pharmacists to be in the dispensaries and part of the approval process. 3. Limiting the initial number of dispensaries and locations to 50, as requested by the cannabis industry. ”
In a move that seemed to surprise many among the agency’s staff, the board gave narrow consent to more or less what the doctors ordered.
The response from members of New Health Solutions Oklahoma (NHSO) was immediate. The trade association for the state’s young Cannabis industry declared the rules “usurped the will of the people and insulted voters.” The group called on Governor Mary Fallin to reject the proposed rules.
However, the chief executive affixed her name to the rules, saying, ““These rules are the best place to start in developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, with the highest priority given to the health and safety of Oklahomans. They are also the quickest and most cost-efficient way to get the process actually started as required by the law passed by the people.
I expect modifications could occur in the future. I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions. But I encourage everyone to approach this effort in a constructive fashion in order to honor the will of the citizens of Oklahoma who want a balanced and responsible medical marijuana law.
“The state question placed an accelerated implementation period upon the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which is required to start the application process by July 26 – just two weeks away. The Health Department has been working with 17 other agencies the past three months on crafting these emergency rules. Asking the Legislature to pass comprehensive legislation in a special session is not realistic.
“Dealing with medical marijuana is unchartered territory for our state, and there are many opinions, including divisive views even among S.Q. 788 backers, on how this should be implemented. Discussions have been going on the past few months in and outside the Capitol with no clear-cut agreement.
I appreciate the hard work of Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates and his staff, who take seriously their responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Oklahomans.”
NHSO promptly rebuked Fallin, saying the move was “designed to hamstring the medical cannabis program overwhelmingly approved by voters.”
The governor’s reference to “divisive views even among S.Q. 788 backers” pointed to sharp disagreements among former allies who backed the ballot initiative but disagreed on the need, or lack thereof, for a special session to craft implementing legislation for S.Q. 788.
The proposition, now law, is a statutory (not a constitutional) enactment.
For good measure, as this week’s drama unfolded the man who would be governor, Democratic nominee Drew Edmondson (former state attorney general) blasted Fallin and her legislative allies. He called the rules “yet another failure of government.
The legislature and governor have consistently ignored the will of the people. State Question 788 passed by an overwhelming majority of Oklahoma voters, who recognize the benefits medical marijuana could provide for veterans, cancer patients and others suffering from a host of treatable ailments.
“Additionally, the ban on smokeable marijuana will certainly be challenged in court and has already been ruled unconstitutional in at least one state. There is no doubt that the chaos created by the proposed rules can be directly tied to the failed leadership of Governor Fallin and her legislature.”
The state Democratic Party also issued a press release assailing the health agency’s actions.
Which brings us to the next act, or at least the prelude to an act.
State House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate President Pro Temp Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City today announced they will establish a working group to, McCall said, “get this right.”
McCall said members of the House are “committed to implementing the will of our citizens in a responsible way that respects the desire of voters while also protecting public safety and addressing concerns from the business and medical communities. We have many lawmakers who want to be involved in crafting a permanent regulatory framework more in line with what the voters want and expect.
This group will begin evaluating the Department of Health’s recently adopted and approved rules and meeting with the governor’s office, medical marijuana industry representatives, Health Department officials, healthcare providers and other stakeholders to determine the best approach forward.”
Sen. Treat said his members “will not undo the will of voters, who spoke loudly by passing State Question 788.
“While the Health Department and its commissioner did yeoman’s work in drafting emergency rules, the Board of Health’s adoption of last-minute amendments without public comments has undermined the public’s confidence in the system. Lawmakers have the ability to amend this law as we move forward to address any issues which may arise.
“A group of senators has been working diligently on this issue since April, and the new bipartisan, bicameral working group will be able to build upon that work. Lawmakers will work with all stakeholders to ensure we get this right. The legislative working group will help ensure a stable and effective regulatory framework is put in place so that State Question 788 can be implemented efficiently, effectively and safely in accordance with the will of Oklahoma voters.”
Although the legislative leaders said they aim to form the working group by early next week, the press release sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations said there is “no set timetable yet for meeting or making recommendations.” Early next year, the authority for the Health Department’s governing body to make binding rules will fade away.
In the immediate aftermath of voter approval for State Question 788, Fallin had said a special session would not be required to begin implementation. But now, that might change.
In light of recent events, stay tuned, and, like our favorite local weather guy, “we’ll keep you advised.”
No predictions, for the moment.
However, there is a ballot initiative circulating to allow recreational use of marijuana.
Wait a minute. …