Oklahoma Board of Health bans sales of smokeable marijuana
Raymond Jennings credits smoking medical marijuana with helping him keep up the strength to survive his cancer battle.
And he worries that other Oklahomans won’t have the same opportunity, after the state Board of Health voted to ban sales of marijuana flowers and leaves, the forms that patients can smoke.
Jennings, of Broken Arrow, said he underwent three rounds of chemotherapy and 35 radiation treatments to kill stage four squamous cell skin cancer. He said he’d never smoked and didn’t like the idea of using marijuana, but was so weak from being unable to eat that he agreed to try it. He received the marijuana in Colorado, where it already was legal.
“I can tell you, without smoking marijuana, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said. “It’s the only thing that stopped the nausea.”
- Related to this story
- Gallery: Oklahoma health department approves emergency rules for cannabis
- Article: Doctors, pharmacists propose ban on smoking medical pot
- Article: Proposals would ban sale of smokeable products
- Article: With medical marijuana on the books, will Oklahoma go recreational?
- Article: Governor approves controversial medical marijuana rules
- Article: Politics of medical marijuana rules could alter agencies' powers
- Article: House, Senate leadership form medical marijuana 'working group'
- Article: Board broke tradition in setting Rx pot rules, author unknown
- Article: First lawsuit filed over Oklahoma medical marijuana
- Article: Oklahoma AG assembles team of lawyers over marijuana rules
- Article: AG to advise Health Department on medical marijuana lawsuit
- Video: Marijuana proponent reacts to approval of rules for medical marijuana
- Video: Advocates oppose additional marijuana restrictions proposed Monday
- Video: Additional medical marijuana rules suggested
- Video: Oklahoma State Board of Health Approves marijuana rules
- Video: Explanation of approved medical marijuana rules
The board, which oversees the Oklahoma State Department of Health, voted Tuesday morning on 75 pages of rules creating a rough framework for patients, physicians, caretakers and business owners interested in medical marijuana. It also added two new rules that a coalition of health groups had pushed: the ban on smoking products and a requirement that dispensaries hire a pharmacist.
Chuck Skilings, a board member and the CEO of St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital, said allowing the sale of smokeable marijuana would be a step backward for public health.
“I don’t think we’re protecting the public that doesn’t smoke,” he said. “I think we’re imposing a hazard.”
Patients who want to grow their own marijuana to smoke still will be allowed to.
Julie Ezell, the Health Department’s general counsel, cautioned board members that the two new rules they added to the proposed rules might not be allowed under State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana. That could invite a court challenge, she said.
Tom Bates, interim commissioner of the Health Department, said the department had expected some court challenges, regardless of whether the board added the dispensary restrictions. The board will continue to revisit the rules over the next months, while Health Department staff continue working out the logistics surrounding legalization, he said.
“We didn’t chisel anything today in granite,” he said.
The rules will go to Gov. Mary Fallin for approval. Licenses will be available starting July 26, and the Health Department will start accepting the completed forms on Aug. 25.
Dr. Jean Hausheer, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, praised the vote.
“We are pleased with the rules adopted today by the Oklahoma State Department of Health and look forward to working with them to promote public health throughout the state,” she said in a news release.
Few others said they were pleased.
New Health Solutions Oklahoma, a medical marijuana trade group, called on Fallin to reject the rules or call a special legislative session. Fallin had said she would call a special session, but back down after Oklahomans approved the state question by a relatively wide margin.
Bud Scott, New Health’s executive director, said it would financially unfeasible for every dispensary to employ a pharmacist, and that the rules ban products that are widely available in other states with medical marijuana laws.
“This is an attempt to kneecap the program, not a good-faith effort to implement it safely,” he said in a news release. “These rules are unworkable for a functional medical cannabis industry.”
Pharmacists are the best people to dispense marijuana because they have training in chemistry and drug interactions, said board member R. Murali Krishna, who is also president of Integris’ James L. Hall Jr. Center for Mind, Body and Spirit.
“We want to implement the law, but we want to do it in a way that’s safe,” he said.
Chip Paul, one of the founders of the pro-medical marijuana group Oklahomans for Health, said the group opposes requiring dispensaries to hire pharmacists, but the vote was an important step toward a working medical marijuana framework.
“I know the activist community. They won’t be happy about this at all,” he said. “But there’s really good aspects to what’s been done here.”
The room where the board met held only a few dozen people, who listened silently, other than when Paul briefly applauded a vote to pass most of the rules before returning to the two amendments. Most spectators were directed to a downstairs room where they could watch a live feed of the meeting.
Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voiced dissatisfaction Tuesday. Rep. Forrest Bennett, an Oklahoma City Democrat, said on Twitter that he objected to banning sales of smoking products and some edible products, such as gummy bears and animal-shaped candies. Ezell said the restrictions on edibles were meant to reduce their appeal to children.
“Today, the Health Department ignored the will of the people re: SQ788,” Bennett said in a tweet. “By banning many edible forms and now banning smokable products, they’re attacking the spirit of the law. I will do everything I can to correct this, and I’m sure many of my House colleagues feel the same.”
House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, an Oklahoma City Republican, said in a phone call he was blindsided by the amendments Tuesday, even though he had been in touch with medical marijuana groups, the business community and the Health Department. The ban on selling smokeable forms of marijuana and the pharmacist requirement had never come up before, he said.
“I called to find out what happened with those new regulations, to figure out if I was being negotiated with in bad faith or how did this happen?” he said. “What appears to have happened is the unelected board of health chose to amend those regulations on the spot, to things that had never been discussed.”
For many people, the first time they had heard of the proposed amendments was at a press conference at the Oklahoma State Medical Association on Monday. The association and a coalition of other medical groups had asked the board for the two amendments, and for a limit on the number of dispensary licenses available. The board discussed a limit, but didn’t take a vote on it.
Echols said the vote was an example of a need to place boards under the control of the Legislature, which was part of the failed Step Up revenue plan earlier this year.
“In Oklahoma, our system of government gives unelected boards almost complete authority and this is a perfect example of that,” he said.