The Killer Whale on the Frontlines with State Questions 818 and 819
by Jessi Lane
Are you ready for the rec, retroactivity, abolishment, and rebirth that is about to be the Oklahoma Cannabis Medical and Right To Use Acts? If ever we needed a call to arms, this is it. Zack De La Rocha said it best, “We need a movement with a quickness. You are the witness of change. And to counteract- we gotta take the power back!”
State Questions 818 and 819 have the industry a buzz. Oklahomans are tired of this “shot-gun approach to chop up our medical program” says Brandon Rust, and they are moving to take the power back. State Question 818, also known as the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Enforcement and Anti-Corruption Act, protects the Oklahoma medical program and “makes it part of the state constitution, not a health code as it is now,” Rust says. This progressive grassroots stride for change and reclamation of power for and to the people can be attributed to the tireless efforts of the Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action or ORCA.
Founded by Jed Green, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is a 501(c)4 not for profit incorporation. According to their website, ORCA’s “task is to establish the organization and structure with the intent of stepping back into ancillary support roles as the organization grows and a long-term structure developed based on interest and support from the cannabis community and industry.”
But SQ818 isn’t just about cementing in the rights and privileges of licensed cannabis as medicine patients. Oh no. Leaving no stone unturned, ORCA developed a hefty fourteen sections that make up 818, with the goal of permanently establishing an unbreakable constitutional amendment and medical program Oklahomans deserve. Beginning with the disbanding and break down of the OMMA and the creation of a new state agency called the Oklahoma State Cannabis Coalition (OSCC).
OSCC would be comprised of a twenty-member board including a representative from the Oklahoma Department of Health, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Oklahoma Tax Commission, the Fire Marshall, and the office of the Attorney General. They would share this panel with licensee representatives for subgroups like Growers and Dispensaries, Patients and Caregivers, and many more. The coalition would be led by a Governor-appointed Commissioner who, additionally, must be approved by two thirds majority of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
OSCC would assume authority over cannabis and hemp, plant-based medicines, and the products and services therein. 818 would also hold OMMA accountable for potential misspending of funds that may be found via an audit and require the funds paid in a structured, timely manner to an established OSCC General Fund- also named and included in the sections therein.
All funds collected and spent by the OMMA, OSDH, and the Oklahoma State Tax Commission from June 26, 2018 to the date of passage would have to undergo an audit, report, and accounting of, and be publicly provided by, the State Auditor within a specified timely manner. Any funds found by the Auditor to not have been spent in a lawful manner would be returned to the OSCC General Fund by the agency which expended the funds. However, if said agency is unable to transfer within 30 days, the transfer would come from the Oklahoma General Fund.
Speaking to Oklahoma cannabis business owners Rust says, “If you want to get rid of METRC this is the only way. The contract is with OMMA.” If Oklahoma votes to disband the OMMA through State Question 818, the contracts made with said agency would also cease to exist. The goal is to keep Oklahoma cannabis money in Oklahoma not Lakewood, Florida, the location of METRC’s headquarters. Under SQ818, OSCC would be tasked with the creation of a new tracking system that is “no more restrictive or burdensome than federal guidelines for hemp harvest batches”, according to ORCA.
Currently Oklahoma cannabis business owners are excluded from state tax write offs. 818 would allow for state tax deductions and exemptions for licensed cannabis businesses. It also provides and regulates tax credits for hemp businesses and separates hemp from cannabis excise taxation. According to ok.gov, over three million dollars in state taxes has been generated by medical cannabis sales. In the taxation section of SQ818, 7% excise tax would be collected on cannabis sales at the point of sale. Should we go rec, this percentage may increase up to 15% on non medical purchases. A portion of the excise tax would go into a Research Fund, another portion into a Rural Impact and Urban Waste Remediation Program Fund, and another to the Dept of Ag to provide mitigation support efforts and insurance related to crop damage caused to our agricultural non industry neighbors by accidental overspray. There are portions of the collected taxes allotted for emergency mental health response programs, to fund addiction recovery programs, and to support mental health crisis training for law enforcement.
SQ818 outlines patient and caregiver rights including parental rights, offering protection from state agencies like DHS. It protects those patients seeking housing, healthcare, employment, or public assistance and those wanting to own firearms from denial due to licensing. It defines the limitations and annual fees of commercial, patient, and caregiver licensing. For example, the newly drafted Marijuana Handling License requires dispensary employees to undergo a minimum of two hours of cannabis related education every two years. Just knowing what’s fire won’t be enough product knowledge for a budtender under 818. An education license would provide license holders with the opportunity to apply for grants to develop cannabis materials and curriculum.
Due Process and Equal Protection Rights would protect persons under state supervision from penalization based on cannabis consumption as it is outlined in SQ818. Furthermore, cannabis can not be used as reasonable cause for search, seizure, or arrest nor can the cannabis itself be seized. 818 also states that the existence of THC alone in one’s system does not assume a position of impairment while operating a motor vehicle.
SQ 819, the Oklahoma Marijuana Regulation and Right to Use Act sets out to legalize cannabis for anyone 21 years of age or older and structures the regulation therein. It allows for existing medical dispensaries to also function as recreational dispensaries without any additional licensing. Like SQ818, there is consumer General Protection Language specific to housing, healthcare, employment, etcetera. Parental rights and firearm ownership rights would be protected for 21 and up recreational consumers as well. Due Process and Equal Protection Rights are covered in 819. Most notably, the Retroactivity section of 819 states that those with cannabis related convictions may file a petition for resentencing, modification, reversal, or dismissal of their sentence.
Under 819, tax rates are built to reduce over time for medical cannabis patients. The excise tax is also divvied up in 819. Portions would go to DHS for the benefit of persons with developmental and physical disabilities, the OK Water Resources Board, to agencies with the end goal of increasing access to evidence-based low-barrier drug addiction treatment as well as job support, housing, and counseling for people living with substance use disorders. A portion would fund mental health and addiction services grants and law enforcement mental health crisis training, like 818. The Research Fund, Rural Impact and Urban Waste Remediation Program Fund, and the Dept of Ag are all allotted a percentage of this excise tax.
Brandon reminds us that all these rights and privileges could be provided to us in the following months if we collectively sign the petition -95,000 signatures will be required within 90 days- and vote Yes on the November ballot. If you’d like to get involved with ORCA to best ensure positive Oklahoma cannabis industry change for the people, fill out their volunteer form at https://orcaok.com/volunteer-sign-up/