A Personal Profile
by Kayla Johnson
The cannabis industry, whether medical or recreational, promotes itself as a fairly united front, and for the most part, it is; we’re all Team Green here, right? As tightly knit as the industry and community can be, it’s not uncommon for patients, businesses, and even advocates to butt heads in one way or another over different issues involving cannabis. The majority of people who make up the cannabis community and industry are all, in their own way and with their own opinions, passionate about cannabis and protecting the rights of patients. There is a lot at stake for everyone involved. Like any family, however, people don’t always agree with how things should be handled, and unfortunately, it can even become downright unpleasant at times. If you have had an opinion or view on any of the laws or regulations in the last year and a half, especially if it has been shared on social media or any other outlet, I’ll venture a guess that you have probably experienced similar disagreements. Controversy is something easily acquired these days, even in the cannabis world, and once it is attached to your name, for good or ill, it can be hard to shake free from.
Bud Scott, the executive director at the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association (OCIA) and attorney at Oklahoma Progress, PLLC., has some experience with controversial issues related to cannabis. A graduate of Oklahoma University and University of Kansas Law School, he cut his cannabis teeth in Amsterdam’s industry while traveling abroad. Scott found himself swimming in controversy and notoriety during the efforts to pass House Bill 2612, better known by most as the Unity Bill. Some patients and businesses believed the bill imposed too many regulations on a still fledgling industry and they disliked the call for a special legislative session. At the same time, others pushed the concept that Scott, a native of Enid who graduated from Tulsa High School, was a corporate lobbyist from out-of-state who was vehemently against the patients and their rights.
Scott founded the OCIA under the name, New Health Solutions, Inc., in order to bring businesses together to help fund and manage the “Vote Yes on StateQuestion (SQ) 788” campaign in 2017. He first became involved in regulatory efforts shortly before the vote in June 2018; working to help SQ788 hit the ground running:
“I was working at the legislature for almost the entire legislative session, basically since February of that year, and we had a gargantuan task. We were trying to take what we saw as the best features of regulatory programs of other states, and creating a bill that included things like ‘seed to sale’, and things that we knew were going to happen,” Scott said. “There was no way the legislation was not going to have things like seed to sale, inventory tracking, or testing; which are all components that any regulatory program is going to have. We tried to get them in place with the idea that once the state question passed, boom, we’d have a program in place.”
Despite the amount of work that was poured into the four hundred plus pages, the senate leadership never worked to advance this bit of legislation; yet the need for regulation was clear early on. It came down to a call for a special legislative session, including a thirty minute press conference from Scott and New Health Solutions, INC. in July of 2018. They sparked the movement needed to keep new businesses and cardholders legally in the green.
There was concern regarding just how these then-unknown regulations would be enforced when finally put in place:
“People had no guidance, businesses and patients alike, and had no idea what was going to be expected of them and for such as things like building code compliance. They were not prepared for what was guaranteed to be coming down the pipe,” Scott said. “Since there was our proposal, and another group had popped up with their own proposal to offer, the legislature told us to put together a unified position. I hosted representatives from those different groups at our offices. Together, we basically just amended the legislative proposal that I had previously drafted. We took some of the stuff we liked, some of the stuff we didn’t, and pulled it into a more cohesive proposal that became known as the Unity Bill.”
Though he recognizes the success of coming together as a community and industry to push regulations to the legislature, Scott admits that the bill was not as it could have been:
“It was a comprehensive proposal originally, that tied in all these different facets, and when you start taking things out, you begin to really lose that framework that helps certain aspects of it be successful,” he said. “There were some good things in there, some necessary things, but then there were some changes that were made. Obviously, there’s always going to be compromises that have to be made at the legislature to even get it through, but we were able to push 2612 through.”
Even with that success, however, came the backlash, and for Scott, it seemed to stem from one key moment:
“When we called for that special legislative session, there were many reasons why we did that. We knew what state agencies wanted to do, and we knew what areas they wanted to address, to improve or attack, within the program. We decided to try and just get to the heart of the matter and to really protect this program. That is when we decided to host that press conference,” he said. “We knew from interagency memos that law enforcement was pushing really hard to get rid of home grow. They didn’t like the lack of regulation on the personal grow component, and we knew it was going to be an issue. One thing I said during that press conference was ‘possible registration of home grows’”.
It was that phrase, he believes, that brought down a wave of outrage, anger, and outright aggression.:
“I’ve got a pretty thick skin. It just comes with the industry I’m in, but I’ll tell you, that whole experience was one of the worst experiences I have ever had,” Scott said. “People were outright lying about who I am, who I represent, and what I do for a living. It was stuff that a simple Google search could clear up. Others can whitewash, but it was a directed assault and it was a direct attempt to tear me down and discredit me.”
For Scott, who now also serves on the Medical Marijuana Authority Food Safety Standards Board, the frustration ran deep and in the heat of the moment. Less than a year earlier, he had been working to help manage and fund the SQ788 campaign, and almost immediately after that press conference, his character and business practices were picked apart by some:
“People were spewing these false facts about how I was completely against the patients, and only looking to pad my own pockets with corporate interests,” he said. “I am not a rich man and I have basically spent my entire career working on public interest campaigns. I am just a basic lawyer from my own small practice. You don’t get rich representing local farmers. It is a labor of love for sure. The worst part of this was to have my career and my character completely impugned with falsehoods when the truth, about who I am and what I do, is easily accessible.”
For Scott, the wave of disdain he was forced to ride out underlines a deeper issue; one reflected both within the cannabis industry, and society as a whole:
“It is not just unique to the cannabis world. Obviously it is pretty endemic in our culture right now. People just jump to conclusions and are really pretty vile to each other, and with no regards to the truth, or how it actually impacts other people. It is just shocking,” Scott said. “While it is not unique to our community, I do think it is becoming pretty bad within this industry. One example: if there is a legislature that doesn’t agree with something, they are villainized, and memes are made out of them. They are out to get everybody. I wish that component of this would disappear, because it is extremely problematic.”
Anyone who has been involved in any kind of argument or disagreement, and has been dragged through the virtual mud of social media for any reason, can relate to the frustration Scott says he felt, but there was a key component that made it especially upsetting:
“It is disappointing because this sludge of drama really did impact our momentum with the medical industry, …there are still people out there who persist in putting out this same kind of misinformation about me,” he said. “It is distracting, and it has happened again with the new State Question 806. My name is being attached to things that I have absolutely nothing to do with..”
In fact, Scott says he met with the people behind the bill to discuss the possibility of him joining the campaign. He also shared his concerns about the bill directly with them. “I gave them a lot of ideas and my main concern was the fact that I didn’t think the bill would be successful. Consider how much work we have to do with the legislature and the agencies, it would be a distraction.” In spite of his own personal support of adult use legalization, sharing his concerns and input about the bill was the end of his involvement with the bill; which has been filed, withdrawn, and refiled in relatively short order. Even with his lack of involvement, Scott’s name is still being attached to the project as misinformation continues to circulate.
Though he has faced down his fair share of controversy by now, Scott says his passion for the plant and the people behind it remains the same. “I’m a patient myself, I’ve always enjoyed cannabis, but now with the back issues I have, I like my tinctures just as much as smoking. I wouldn’t have run the campaign or be so dedicated to this industry if it weren’t for my beliefs, and witnessing for myself, the medical benefits.” Like many other “regular” patients, he’s been open with his family about his use. Luckily, many members of his family are patients as well, and his teenage daughter has been able to understand how much it helps him. “She’s 15, and we’ve been able to have some really mature conversations about how it is medicine, and how it helps people.”
In spite of the incredibly negative backlash he faced within the cannabis industry and community, Scott said the experience has not been entirely anger-based or negative. “There are those components that are trying to drag everyone down into the muck. There are also a lot of professionals in this industry, a lot of people who are rational, and business-focused, who understand what we were trying to accomplish and appreciate us for it and that is what I choose to focus on.”