Unity Bill? What exactly is it?

by Sarah Lee Gossett Parrish, Cannabis Lawyer

The information contained herein provides general information related to the “Unity Bill” and does not provide legal advice. Readers should 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.

You may have heard about the “Unity Bill” in the past few weeks. A proposed Act that relates to medical marijuana and made its way through the Oklahoma Legislature’s bicameral Medical Marijuana Working Group with a “recommend” to the Legislature for passage. The bill provides a framework to regulate medical marijuana here in Oklahoma and fills in some of the areas intentionally left unaddressed by SQ 788 and the OMMA’s Emergency Rules with Additional Approved Revisions. There are new Proposed Permanent OMMA Rules that may be the subject of a subsequent column here. For now, let’s focus on the Unity Bill.

What’s In the Unity Bill?

I attended the final hearing on this Bill and listened to the Working Group members discuss proposed amendments and their sometimes-differing visions for regulating our cannabis industry. It was encouraging to see both sides of the aisle working together to achieve a common goal. The Bill was approved by the House Rules Committee as House Bill 2612, and will likely be heard by the full House in the near future.

It begins with a lengthy definitions section, followed by provisions that formally create the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority within the State Department of Health and charge the OMMA with its implementation.

NOTABLE PROVISIONS

Sale of Seeds

Notable provisions include language that allows a commercial grower to sell seeds, flower, or clones “to commercial growers”, thereby providing a much needed legal way for new growers to obtain seeds and clones. However, lawmakers deleted language that would have allowed growers to sell to patients or caregivers.

Patient Confidentiality

The Unity Bill preserves the confidentiality of patients and caregivers. It also makes the handling of all records, including the medical marijuana use registry (accessible to Oklahoma-licensed dispensaries to verify licenses), subject to all relevant state and federal laws, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). All records other than the registry are “deemed confidential” and unavailable to the public.

Municipal Ordinances 

In addressing the plethora of municipal ordinances, licenses, and permits, the Bill prohibits municipalities and counties from enacting guidelines that “restrict or interfere with the rights of licensed patients or caregivers to possess, purchase, cultivate or transport medical marijuana within the legal limits.” These limits are set forth in the Bill and Section 420 et seq. of Title 63 of the Oklahoma Statutes. It also prohibits requiring patients or caregivers to obtain additional permits or licenses.

Firearms

The Unity Bill protects patients’ and caregivers’ rights to “own, purchase or possess a firearm, ammunition, or firearm accessories” and states that “[n]o state or local agency, municipal or county governing authority shall restrict, revoke, suspend or otherwise infringe upon those rights.”

Employment Issues

The law enumerates Patients with “safety-sensitive” jobs. Additionally, the Bill does not require employers to permit or accommodate the use of medical marijuana at the place of employment or during hours of employment. It also recognizes employers’ right to establish written policies about drug testing and impairment in accord with current Oklahoma law.

No Doctors at Dispensaries

Another provision prohibits “[a] physician who recommends the use of medical marijuana” from being “located at the same physical address as a dispensary”.

Home Extractions Limited

The Unity Bill also prohibits the operation of extraction equipment or the utilization of extraction processes in a residential property “if the equipment or process utilizes butane, propane, carbon dioxide or any potentially hazardous material in a residential property.”

Seed-to-Sale

The Unity Bill requires an inventory tracking system that “shall allow for integration of other seed-to-sale systems.” It also provides minimum requirements for same and mandates quality testing by licensees. Debate during the hearing ensued over the prohibition of license ownership by a publicly traded company, and the issue will no doubt arise again at a later date.

New Licenses Created

The Unity Bill creates several new licenses, including a medical marijuana transporter license, testing laboratory license, research license, and education facility license for instance.

The new transporter license carries an annual fee of $100.00. It differs from the current license provided to each commercial business licensee upon request.

The testing laboratory license is a new category of available commercial business licenses. As a result, the Bill gives the OMMA the authority to develop acceptable testing and research practices, standards, quality control analysis, equipment certification and calibration, and chemical identification. It also sets out standards and specific requirements for testing and receipt of marijuana product for testing. Consequently, it creates several categories of testing. These categories include microbials; mycotoxins; residual solvents; pesticides; tetrahydrocannabinol and other cannabinoid potencies; terpenoid potency; and heavy metals.

The research license also requires an extensive application process with numerous requirements. The education facility license carries a $500 fee and issued to not-for-profit organizations. This license also allows the 501(c)(3) organization “to possess or cultivate marijuana for the limited education and research purposes” enumerated in the Bill.

What’s the takeaway?

The Unity Bill represents a concerted effort to create a working framework for regulation and oversight of Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry. It is, in my opinion, a valiant effort. Kudos to Bud Scott and his team who worked tirelessly to draft a bill the Legislature might actually pass. While much work remains to be done and there are provisions in the Unity Bill that may divide, we are on our way to a thriving cannabis industry here in Oklahoma. Certainly, that’s good news for everyone!

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