Time will tell about effectiveness of Oklahoma’s move towards more top-down governance model (Capitol Update)

Adding a new state agency is a rare event, but it happened last session when the Legislature created the new Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) as a standalone agency. The current OMMA is a division of the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) as provided in State Question 788 that was passed in 2018. With the unexpectedly rapid, enormous growth of the state’s medical marijuana industry, legislators felt it was better to separate the OMMA from the bureaucracy of the Health Department and give it full state agency status. 

We’ve had a few years now with the new “the buck stops here” form of state government where the governor directly controls some state agencies. The premise is that when one person, the governor, is clearly in charge, the enhanced accountability will make agencies more efficient because when things go wrong the public knows whom to blame. The theory is dubious because the only way to really hold a governor accountable (short of proving criminal activity) is at the ballot box. I hope to be proven wrong, but the winner at the ballot box is nearly always the candidate who has the most money to spend, which is usually the incumbent governor. Accountability for incompetence in running the state doesn’t seem to count for much. 

Legislators had a choice in what form to create the new OMMA. The OMMA was already governed by the OSDH, which is one of the agencies directly under the control of the governor. But the Legislature could have changed that with the new standalone agency. Current law, passed in SQ 788, provides for a Medical Marijuana Advisory Council composed of twelve Oklahoma residents who are marijuana industry experts for the purpose of creating food safety standards for processing and handling medical marijuana and recommending rules relating to all aspects regarding the safe cultivation and manufacturing of medical marijuana products. 

In creating the new OMMA, the Legislature repealed the Advisory Council and gave the rulemaking authority to the executive director of the new agency, who is appointed by the governor. The current director told the council members at their next-to-last meeting that the council will no longer exist, but she is still interested in industry input. However, there is now no statutory mechanism for that to happen. She’ll be working for the governor, and she’ll get her information when she wants to from where she wants to. The industry will likely have their input during the rulemaking process which happens after rules have been written, not in their formation. 

You can have two kinds of state governance. One top-down model where decisions get made by those in a chain of command. To affect policy from the outside, a citizen must try to get the attention of someone as near the top as possible in the chain of command. The other is where citizen input from the outside is built into the system though councils, boards, and commissions. Oklahoma is moving toward the top-down model. It will probably take a generation to see if this adds to better government efficiency or whether it simply makes it easier for those in authority to exercise authority without having to listen much to those they are governing.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.