On June 26, 2018, medical cannabis was legalized in Oklahoma in the most unprecedented way. What made Oklahoma’s cannabis movement so different from other states? This article will discuss those unique features that the Oklahoma legal market has created for the cannabis industry.
How Medical Marijuana became legal in Oklahoma
A ballot initiative titled “State Question 788, The Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative,” was approved by a significant margin of Oklahoma voters – 57% of votes were cast in favor of it.
Legalization by ballot initiative is not unprecedented; in fact, it is the most common method of legalizing cannabis in the United States, demonstrating that legislatures have been out of touch with the desires of the populace for deregulation of cannabis and other drugs, as well as a general desire for greater personal freedom for adults.
But many states have suboptimal medical cannabis programs that make cannabis both expensive to purchase as a consumer as well as expensive to operate as a commercial business due to a number of stringent regulations and high taxes. And worse, access by the patients can be extremely limited in those states.
Luck for Oklahomans, the activists who started SQ788 saw those deficiencies and committed to pursuing a better way to legalize and regulate cannabis in Oklahoma. The men and women behind SQ 788 sought to create a system with open and easy access to cannabis – both for individual patients as well as small business owners and entrepreneurs who would ultimately grow and process the cannabis that the rest of us would smoke.
They succeeded by crafting the best legalization system in the United States. And Oklahoma has the numbers to prove it, with sales topping $1 Billion annually in a population of less than 4 million. With over 10% of the population carrying a cannabis patient card, with over 8,000 licensed growers and thousands of retail dispensaries, Oklahoma has a thriving cannabis market that is open to anyone who wants in.
What makes Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program so different from the rest of the Country?
So why is Oklahoma’s medical marijuana initiative so different and unprecedented when compared to other states?
There are several fundamental differences that affect both the consumer and the commercial operator, but with the outcome being that access to both consumers and commercial operators is easier, less expensive, and less regulated than in other states.
Obtaining a Medical Marijuana Patient Card in Oklahoma is easier than in other states
Here is an example: for a consumer to gain legal access to the cannabis market — so they can purchase cannabis as well as grow it at home – they must merely obtain a patient card from the State for $104. In order to qualify for a Patient Card, they need nothing more than a “recommendation” from a doctor that they could benefit from Medical Marijuana.
Why would a doctor make such a recommendation? In short, no downside and only upside.
Well, as most of us know by now, there are many, many positive, therapeutic, and yes, even medicinal properties to cannabis.
And further, there is no legal definition as to what qualifies a patient for medical cannabis other than having a doctor’s recommendation. In many states, the law prescribes only a few conditions which a person must be diagnosed with before using cannabis. Oklahoma law has no “qualifying conditions” for cannabis use, which leaves interpretation up to the doctor.
From a doctor’s point of view, there is little to no liability in recommending medical marijuana. Cannabis is non-toxic, has little to no side effects, and likely the only people seeking a recommendation are familiar with any risks – if any exist at all.
With no downside to recommending cannabis to people that who desire to use it (and likely already using it), a new area of medical practice has blossomed: Physician Recommendations for Medical Marijuana. Consumers have a plethora of options when it comes to obtaining a doctor’s recommendation. They can visit one of the many offices by practitioners in a variety of fields as well as obtain their recommendations virtually through online consultations.
Obtaining a Commercial License for a Cannabis Business in Oklahoma is easier than in other states
Many states have limited the number of licenses allowed for cannabis cultivation, processing, and retail. That means in many states, the number of cannabis businesses is limited because the legal limit of licenses have already been issued.
Missouri, for example, legalized medical cannabis by voter initiative, but the statute that took effect gave the legislature discretion on the number of licenses to issue. The legislature, using (or abusing) that power decided to limit the number of growers to three hundred. So thousands of people applied for a license to grow – and spent tens of thousands of dollars on the application – only for the government to pick and choose in the most arbitrary and capricious manner who should be allowed to cultivate. They chose 300 applicants with no rhyme or reason. Lawsuits have since ensued and the losers are the people of Missouri who have less choice in who can grow weed for their consumption.
Compare that system to Oklahoma: there is no limit on licenses to be issued. Any applicant that qualifies can obtain a license.
What are the qualifications? There are not many, but the primary elements are that the business be owned by 75% Oklahoma residents, payment of an annual license fee of $2,500, and approval of the local governing body (county and/or municipality), which may have their own requirements and license fees.
The result is that there are thousands upon thousands of licensed growers, processors and dispensaries in Oklahoma which has greatly benefited the consumer.
Consumers have almost unlimited options when it comes to there cannabis selections. Instead of a handful of growers controlling the market, there are thousands of growers. And there are thousands of dispensaries. In an urban area, there may be four dispensaries in the same intersection, with each carry dozens of different growers’ flower.
The sheer amount of competition (and supply of product) has kept prices low for the consumer.
But best of all for the consumer is that if they don’t like how they are being treated, they have options to shop elsewhere! They can choose a different retailer, and within that retailer, they can pick and choose among hundreds of brands.
Who doesn’t want more options and more choices? When customers have lots of options, commercial operators are forced to bend to the will of the people in producing the products, strains that people want.
Because the supply chain is so strong in Oklahoma, there is a blossoming culture of cannabis connoisseurs which begs the question as to whether Oklahoma will soon become the cultural epicenter of cannabis in the United States (and even world wide). We will continue that discussion in our next article.