A month after Oklahoma voters defeated recreational marijuana, dozens of bills proposing changes to the state’s five-year-old medical marijuana program remain before lawmakers.
Among them are proposals to limit the concentration of THC, the mind-altering chemical in cannabis, and another to make it harder for minors to get physician recommendations for medical marijuana.
More than two dozen marijuana-related bills survived the Legislature’s first big deadline. Some lawmakers have interpreted the rejection of adult-use cannabis under State Question 820 as a sign that voters are tired of what’s perceived as a free-for-all in the medical marijuana market. Voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, with State Question 788 passing with 57% of the vote.
Sen. Jessica Garvin, R-Duncan, has been working with her fellow senators to close loopholes and improve patient safety. Garvin said she’s not anti-cannabis but has heard from constituents and others about problems related to the medical program.
“What I am trying to do is truly make this more of a legitimate medical program versus the recreational feeling that we have created,” Garvin said.
Six of Garvin’s medical marijuana bills made it to the House. Among them are Senate Bill 440, which limits the THC content in edibles and for medical marijuana for minors and SB 439, which puts additional restrictions on the two physicians needed to recommend marijuana for patients under 18. (Patients 18 and older need a recommendation from one physician.)
Garvin said the THC limit bill was influenced by studies showing higher THC concentration in cannabis over time has been linked to drug-induced psychosis, heart attacks and other heart ailments.
“It’s either recreational or medical. You can’t have it both ways,” Garvin said. “Some meaningful reform needs to be made. I have dedicated the last 10 months of my life to this cause, toured businesses and talked to owners of processors and dispensaries. I’ve tried to do some meaningful reform that will really protect patients, protect minors and protect the education system.”
Attorney General Gentner Drummond has identified three active bills as key to his office’s enforcement efforts. HB 2095 would give the attorney general more investigative powers and extend the moratorium on new grower licenses to August 2026. SB 806 strengthens land ownership disclosures and stops multiple businesses of the same type — such as growers, processors or dispensaries — from operating from the same address. SB 913 would require growers to get a bond that could be used to clean up operations if the business fails.
Drummond said medical marijuana has become a “Trojan horse” for organized criminal gangs whose illicit activities also include human and sex trafficking and distribution of other illegal drugs.
“Oklahoma’s illegal marijuana grow operations pose a serious threat to public safety, particularly in rural communities invaded by organized criminals from China and Mexico,” Drummond said.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs estimates about 3,000 of the state’s 6,300 licensed medical marijuana growers are under investigation, mostly for misrepresenting the true owners and operators. Growers have to file applications with the narcotics bureau as well as their licensing paperwork at the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. The number of commercial grow licenses peaked at 9,400 in December 2021.
OBN spokesman Mark Woodward said his agency has shut down about 800 grow operations that had fraudulent ownership applications, with many of them illegally diverting marijuana to other states. Woodward said investigators began seeing more illegal activity in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. Oklahoma’s cheap land and low cost of licensing made it a lucrative destination for criminals, including organized gangs from China, Mexico, Russia, Armenia and Bulgaria, he said.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority said it recently won a significant victory in its crackdown on fraudulent license renewals. An administrative law judge sided with the agency and investigators against a grower who claimed the business was majority owned by an Oklahoma resident. State law requires commercial licensees to have 75% of the ownership from Oklahoma.
The grower, Sun Light Farm LLC in Sayre, said in its renewal application that an Oklahoma resident was the 75% owner. But the company’s operating agreement said otherwise. The Oklahoma resident was being paid $2,000 per month but had no control of the business, according to investigators. The agency denied the renewal and shut down the business.
About 70 business licenses are under review by the agency for suspected fraudulent ownership, said OMMA spokeswoman Porsha Riley. Many involve “ghost” owners like the Sun Light Farm case.
Most of the remaining bills in the Legislature focus on enforcement of the illicit or medical market. Bills perceived as patient-friendly are dormant, including one that created licenses for out-of-state patients.
Among other medical marijuana bills still active are:
- SB 437 by Garvin: Establishes a registry of physicians who can recommend patient cards and puts in continuing education requirements.
- SB 645 by Garvin: Standardizes packaging for medical marijuana products.
- SB 116 by Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant: Creates a 1,000-foot setback for commercial growers from places of worship.
- SB 113 by Bullard: Would remove the agricultural sales tax exemption from medical marijuana growers and processors.
- SB 801 by Sen. Bill Coleman, R-Ponca City: Allows cities to establish zoning regulations for new medical marijuana businesses. Existing businesses would be grandfathered under the bill.
- HB 1616 by Rep. Rande Worthen, R-Lawton: Would require any elected official or appointed public official to disclose the ownership of medical marijuana businesses.
- HB 1711 by Rep. T.J. Marti, R-Oklahoma City: Would require commercial growers to disclose water and electricity usage to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.