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Potential business impact of medical marijuana vote discussed at forum

Passage of the medical marijuana state question on the June 26 ballot would create risks for Oklahoma businesses, members of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber were told Tuesday during a panel discussion.

The 80,000-member Oklahoma Farm Bureau recently became the latest of many groups to come out in opposition to State Question 788, announced Pat McFerron, a political consultant and lobbyist who has been working with the chamber to try to defeat SQ 788.

Several Oklahoma chambers of commerce, medical associations, church groups and law enforcement organizations previously have announced their opposition.

"These groups are not against medicinal marijuana," McFerron said. "This is not an opposition to medicinal marijuana in any way, shape or form. The only thing that unites them is that they are opposed to State Question 788 because the reality is it's as close to recreational as you can get if not being recreational."

Much of the opposition to SQ 788 to date has focused on language in the initiative petition that states there are "no qualifying conditions" required for a doctor to sign off on a medical marijuana recommendation for a patient.

Supporters say that language gives physicians discretion to recommend marijuana for a broad variety of ailments for which it might be beneficial, while opponents contend it's a thinly disguised attempt to make marijuana available to any adult Oklahoman who wants it, rather than just those who might benefit medically.

The state question creates special concerns for businesses, including whether they could stop members of the public from using marijuana in restaurants, hotels and arenas, McFerron said.

"From a business perspective, it appears to create a special class of employee," he said. "It would be in conflict with your ability to offer a drug-free workplace."

In particular, employers are concerned about language in the initiative petition that would prohibit an employer from taking action against a medical marijuana license holder solely based upon the status of an employee as a medical marijuana license holder or the results of a drug test showing positive for marijuana or its components, said Mark VanLandingham, vice president of government relations for the chamber.

"Employees who drive heavy machinery or work on an oil rig could no longer be disciplined for failing a drug test," VanLandingham said. "Although an employer could arguably under the state question discipline an employee for having marijuana at work or showing up impaired, there are no restrictions on using it right before work or on lunch hour and it's just going to be really hard to get a grip on all this stuff. You are going to create a work environment in some sectors of the economy that is just very dangerous."

VanLandingham said employers who try to maintain a drug-free workplace could find themselves being sued for discrimination by medical marijuana users.

Workers' compensation rates could be expected to rise, he said.

"It won't take long, I think it's natural to expect that an employee can get insurance to pay for his or her medical marijuana just by claiming an injury so you're going to run into that situation," he said.

Brad Krieger, executive vice president and regional manager for Arvest Bank, said bankers are concerned about SQ 788 not just as it relates to their employees, but also because it would add financial risk to business loans.

"Every company that's in our portfolio, we really have to worry about," Krieger said, adding that an adverse court decision in a medical marijuana discrimination case could make a loan financially risky that wasn't previously.

McFerron acknowledged that state lawmakers could pass future legislation that would fix most of the anticipated problems but contended it would be better to defeat the state question and then have the Legislature draft a more narrow medical marijuana law.

Backers of the state question have said they know further legislation will be required if it is approved by voters, but they believe it would provide a good basic framework for making medical marijuana available in Oklahoma to those who would benefit from it.

Related Photos
Medical marijuana could create risks for local businesses, Oklahoma City leaders were told during a recent panel. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

Medical marijuana could create risks for local businesses, Oklahoma City leaders were told during a recent panel. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8b70353d832506b65aac5d909bf82cab.jpg" alt="Photo - Medical marijuana could create risks for local businesses, Oklahoma City leaders were told during a recent panel. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)" title="Medical marijuana could create risks for local businesses, Oklahoma City leaders were told during a recent panel. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)"><figcaption>Medical marijuana could create risks for local businesses, Oklahoma City leaders were told during a recent panel. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)</figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education... Read more ›

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