Pubdate: Thur, 15 Aug 2019
Source: Oklahoman, The (OK)
Copyright: 2019 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Author: Carmen Forman


A year after medical marijuana became legal in Oklahoma, state
lawmakers and marijuana advocates seem to have found a balance in
implementing State Question 788 and moving the industry forward into
the near future.

Sweeping legislation -- the result of a major compromise between
legislators and cannabis advocates -- to regulate the medical
marijuana industry will go into effect later this month.

Meanwhile, there are whispers of an initiative petition to put the
question of legalizing recreational marijuana to a statewide vote,
which could shake up Oklahoma's fledgling marijuana industry and the
new regulatory framework.

But lawmakers and medical marijuana supporters are largely in
agreement that they want to let the state adjust to the changes of SQ
788 and the accompanying legislation before any other major upheaval
in the marijuana industry.

Leaders on both sides also doubt such an initiative petition could be

Sen. Greg McCortney, R-Ada, said he's unsure there will be a major
push to legalize recreational marijuana because Oklahoma's medical
cannabis program already has so many cardholders.

Oklahoma already has nearly 162,000 licensed medical marijuana
patients -- more than twice the number the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana
Authority anticipated this soon after legalization.

In a way, Oklahoma already has recreational marijuana because it's so
easy to obtain a medical card, said McCortney, who played a large role
in crafting a legislative framework for the implementation of SQ 788.

"The people who would want to make it recreational, I'm guessing
they're already getting their marijuana and so going out and trying to
get the signatures for a ballot initiative, it's a lot of effort," he
said. "I would be surprised if they put forth that effort, but you
never know what people might do."

At least 10 states that legalized medical marijuana, including
California, Colorado, Nevada, Vermont Washington, Massachusetts and
Washington, D.C. later went on to legalize recreational cannabis use,
typically through a ballot initiative.

An effort last year to ask voters to legalize recreational marijuana
failed to get the required number of signatures to get on the ballot.

Chip Paul, an activist who authored SQ 788, said he's already been
approached by several groups wanting to push an initiative petition to
legalize recreational marijuana.

Largely, it's commercial business owners, who see how much money they
could make through a recreational program, that are talking about an
initiative petition, Paul said.

Paul, a co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, hasn't committed to help
with another ballot initiative. Instead, he's more interested in
making sure Oklahoma's elected officials are acting within the spirit
of SQ 788.

"Medical marijuana is here to stay in Oklahoma, absolutely and I think
that we will work very hard to protect the footprint that we've
built," Paul said.

The only way a recreational petition could be successful is if the
cannabis activist network and Oklahomans for Health back the measure,
Paul said. That could happen, but it depends on the actions of
Oklahoma's lawmakers.

If lawmakers get behind SQ 788 and accept that it's the law of the
land, then Oklahomans for Health will not get involved in another
initiative petition, he said.

Paul praised the compromise lawmakers and cannabis supporters agreed
to with the sweeping House Bill 2612, also referred to as the "Unity
Bill," which will set up a legal framework for SQ 788. The bill, which
emerged from the 13-week bicameral Medical Marijuana Working Group is
slated to go into effect Aug. 29.

"The 'Unity Bill' is the work of the activist community, that is the
work of the cannabis trade community and that is the work of
lawmakers," Paul said. "Were we all happy? No, but we all agreed this
was a good starting point for regulation."

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols doesn't anticipate any
legislative actions will trigger a recreational marijuana initiative
petition. If there is an initiative petition, it'll come from people
who always intended to push for recreational marijuana, he said.

He is optimistic the spirit of cooperation from the medical marijuana
working group will carry forward.

Echols also is considering imposing a moratorium on most marijuana
legislation for the 2020 legislative session. Given Echols' House
leadership position, what he says goes.

"The debate I'm having now is whether or not it'd be better to just
let things lie," Echols said. "Oftentimes in the Legislature, there's
this temptation to just keep tweaking stuff and keep tweaking stuff
and keep tweaking stuff and never give some time for everybody to breathe."

Bud Scott, executive director of the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry
Association, said he supports taking a wait-and-see approach because
many of the regulations for SQ 788 are just starting to take effect.

Scott said his position from the beginning was to implement a strong
medical marijuana program in Oklahoma that could make the state a
leader in the industry. Oklahoma's program is quickly becoming one of
the most attractive in the country, but there are still growing pains
and wrinkles that need to be ironed out, he said.

"I know that there are some people pushing for a recreational state
question and my thoughts on it are let's get our program really
running first," he said.
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