Several issues divide medical marijuana advocates and regulators (Capitol Update)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

I attended the first meeting of the marijuana working group last Wednesday and found it interesting. First, there was standing room only consisting mainly of proponents of medical marijuana. These folks worked hard for their victory and have no intention of allowing the political process to rob them of their success. They made it clear that their litmus test for regulating the industry is whether any proposed regulation limits access to the plant for medicinal purposes.

Unacceptable limitations could include such things as laws or regulations naming specific medical conditions or diseases that would justify a medical license for a user. The proponents indicated they had given a lot of thought to this and opted to go with leaving the medical need decision to the judgment of a licensed physician, not to lawmakers or regulators. Their argument is that, not only is a person trained in medicine best qualified to make the decision, but that as science and knowledge moves forward laws are difficult to change once enacted. They say they have seen this problem develop in some of the other 30 states that have medical marijuana. They also object to setting specific limitations on percentage of THC for the same reasons.

Another flashpoint for the proponents is requiring in-home inspections for user licensees without a search warrant. Their point is that use of no other prescription drug, including opioids, for example, gives rise to allowing the state to inspect a person’s home without probable cause to believe the law is being violated. They also expressed strong resistance to placing limitations on commercial growers. Such limitations could include minimum size requirements, such as a 10,000 square foot building, a minimum amount of on-hand capital or an overall limitation on commercial growers in the state. They favor the small entrepreneur approach or “mom and pop” operations. They also fear a testing regime that would make growing medical marijuana economically unfeasible.

These are all, in the proponents’ minds, red flags for the coming legislative session. There were three proponent organizations who testified that seemed to be made up of what you might call indigenous advocates. They seemed to be pretty much on the same page. The fourth was made up of organizations felt by many in the first three groups to represent the views of out-of-state growers. This fourth organization apparently came on the scene after the petition signatures were obtained. The other three groups worry the “big operations” will advance restrictions that freeze out the small local growers or distributors.

It appears to me this fight is far from over, and it won’t be simple. First, reasonable people can differ as to what is good public policy. And science is complicated. Beyond that, there is a whole cacophony of interest groups such as law enforcement, prosecutors, pharmacists, physicians and others yet to weigh in, many of whom opposed SQ 788 in the first place. The campaign appeared to be a contest between the grass roots proponents and the establishment. The grass roots do well to remember the establishment is still there, alive and well.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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