by Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, Cannabis Lawyer
The year 2019 saw a plethora of milestones in Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana Program and in the cannabis sector nationwide. In looking forward to this year and a new decade, it is important to take stock of battles won and lost on the fields of green.
In Oklahoma, 2019 was a year of continued firsts in the cannabis sector. The Oklahoma Legislature enacted legislation codifying the state’s medical marijuana program and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (“OMMA”) took steps to implement statutory modifications to the program.2 Last year brought stricter residency requirements for licensees, additional licenses such as waste disposal, laboratory, transport agent, and short-term medical marijuana patient licenses. It also saw unsuccessful attempts to place the question of adult use on the ballot—an issue that no doubt will resurface later this year.
The first OMMA commercial licensees filed for renewals in 2019 and applications brought additional requirements such as certificates of compliance and expanded definitions of the term “ownership interest” in business entities seeking licenses and renewals. Seed-to-sale inventory tracking and the first testing regulations brought stricter standards to our industry, and changes in packaging and labeling requirements added new meaning to the term “compliance”. Oklahoma’s cannabis businesses still operate within a sea of gray and it is not diminishing yet. Perhaps there is no better evidence of this fact than the caveat that now appears on OMMA’s website just above
the current rules, advising readers to consult an attorney if they have questions about the proper interpretation and application of same.
That said, expect to see OMMA’s enactment of permanent rules in the summer of 2020, along with a set of testing rules and regulations that establish more particular and specific requirements in this arena, along with licensing of laboratories to test medical marijuana. More Oklahomans will no doubt apply for patient licenses and, if our Legislature cooperates, then Oklahoma will remain the only free enterprise medical marijuana system in the country—a fact that will ensure continued interest in our medical marijuana program.
Oregon’s Portland Mercury Blogtown post of November 25, 2019, opines that “[t]he details and numbers of [Oklahoma’s] medical program are astonishing when you consider the hot bed of conservative beliefs and religion which runs deep through the state….In the 10 months of data collected for 2019, it reveals a medical program with numbers which would be the envy of any recreational program.” The post notes that we are “the largest MMJ program in the US. Sales are expected to top $350 million by the end of the year, with analysts predicting that number potentially doubling as the market matures.”
Significantly, the post recognizes that “credit for this success is due to the state, which created a program seemingly designed to actually help both the patients, and the people serving them.” Indeed, OMMA and the State of Oklahoma deserve much of the credit for our successful medical marijuana program here. However, so do the citizens, the business owners, ancillary businesses in the cannabis space, and the patients themselves. If we all continue to work together, a year from now I will be writing about even more significant cannabis milestones in our state, and how Oklahoma continues to lead the way in the medical marijuana space. I have every reason to believe this will be the case.
There were other milestones, federal and state, worth mentioning. In September 2019, the United States House of Representatives passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement (“SAFE”) Banking Act by a 321 to 103 vote that reflected bipartisan support—a rarity these days. The SAFE Banking Act’s passage by the House represents the first major cannabis reform legislation to achieve a vote nationally.
Two months later, the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (“MORE”) Act, the first piece of federal legislation calling for removal of marijuana from the controlled substances list that actually reached part of Congress for a vote—clearly a seminal event. The MORE Act also dictates review and possible expungement of cannabis possession and consumption convictions, something the states are now undertaking.3
3 Should the House of Representatives pass the MORE Act, it likely will die on Senate arrival, just as the SAFE Banking Act did.
At least 26 states now have enacted some type of marijuana decriminalization. In 2019, New Mexico passed a cannabis decriminalization bill to treat possession of up to half an ounce with a $50 fine. Hawaii allowed modest decriminalization, removing incarceration as a punishment for possession of three grams or less. North Dakota passed legislation removing the threat of jail time for first-time offenders caught possessing half an ounce or less, making them subject to a fine of $1000 or less.
Thus, 2019 brought clear recognition of Gallup’s 2018 and 2019 polls showing approximately two-thirds of Americans favor legalization. In fact, an end of year CBS News Poll reflects support for legal weed achieved a new high, with 65% of all U.S. adults in favor of legalization. Even among seniors, the CBS poll showed that the majority favored legalization.
Additional state milestones in 2019 include the following. Illinois legalized adult use at the legislative level, becoming the eleventh state (on January 1, 2020 when the law became effective) to legalize adult usage. The other ten states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. New York, New Mexico, and Minnesota are expected to go fully legal in 2020. And why not? State revenues from legal marijuana continue to multiply. Over the summer of 2019, Colorado passed the $1 billion mark in total revenue from the legal marijuana industry and Oklahoma is posting significant gains with each passing month.
What’s the Take-Away?
Currently, 47 of the 50 states have legalized marijuana in some form. This new year will bring new reforms, new regulations, and, given that we are now in an election year, more attention to the nonsensical reality that the federal government is out of sync with the majority of Americans and their state laws on this issue. So…
Stay tuned. It’s going to be a wild ride, and not just here in the Wild, Wild West of Oklahoma.
Information contained herein provides general information related to the law and does not provide legal advice. It is recommended that readers consult their personal lawyer if they want legal advice. No attorney-client or confidential relationship exists or is formed between you and Ms. Parrish as a result of this article.
For detailed information on these legislative enactments, please see my article in last month’s issue of Herb-Age magazine, titled “OMMA’s New Rules Create Uncertainties”.