There was a time not so long ago — actually, only about a month — that things were going swimmingly for the pro-medical cannabis crowd in Oklahoma. Voters overwhelmingly agreed with a ballot initiative that called for the state to legalize and regulate cannabis sales for medical purposes. Then, when Oklahoma bureaucrats took the wheel, things got… messy.
The head of the pharmacy board resigned, the top former Health Department lawyer is being investigated for allegedly making up threats against her, the attorney general got involved, a cannabis group admitted to misleading its followers about the number of signatures it had collected for a legalization ballot initiative, two lawsuits were filed, another new lawsuit was filed yesterday challenging the state’s latest batch of rules … and, yes, even more.
We’ve covered Oklahoma medical cannabis closely in the Cannabis Wire newsletter, but for those of you looking to make sense of the chaos before the state’s mandatory August 25 deadline for the state to put its new medical cannabis program into place, here’s a timeline of the wild events:
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June 26: A years-long, grassroots effort to legalize medical cannabis defeats a moneyed opposition campaign and voters approve SQ 788 with 57 percent of the vote. As we wrote at the time, even as both sides agreed that the medical cannabis ballot initiative language wasn’t perfect, the nearly $1 million in electioneering wasn’t enough to defeat it. The initiative passed despite particularly loose language, including the fact that it would allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any condition. “The primary issue that motivates me and everybody else at this point is compassion,” pro-cannabis organizer Frank Grove told Cannabis Wire. “Ultimately, this is about caring about our neighbors.”
The law includes an exceptionally tight timeline for state officials to write and adopt new rules on medical cannabis before the new law goes into effect August 25.
July 10: The Board of Health passed emergency rules that banned smokable cannabis and required a pharmacist on-site where cannabis would be sold, enraging the medical cannabis community. The executive director of the ACLU of Oklahoma tweeted the Health Department’s new rules “guaranteed litigation.”
July 13: Two groups announced lawsuits against the Department of Health and its new rules. Julie Ezell, the department’s general counsel, who had advised the board against adopting the ban on smokable cannabis and the other rules, resigned. “I am so sorry,” Ezell wrote in her resignation email, which Cannabis Wire obtained. Most thought that the disagreements had led to her resignation, but would soon find out why she really resigned.
July 16: At the request of the Board of Health, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter promised to review the new, controversial rules.
July 17: The Tulsa World reported that Ezell, the former health department counsel, confessed to state police that she created a fake email account and emailed herself fake threats related to the medical cannabis rules. She is charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor.
According to the World and subsequent police reports, Ezell texted an unnamed recipient about the supposed threats she had received:
“F—, text me when you are up. I just got a pretty threatening email about medical marijuana,” she texted. One of the emails Ezell allegedly sent to her email account at the Department of Health on July 8 said: “We will stop YOU and your greed.”
July 18: Attorney General Mike Hunter wrote a letter to the Board of Health to say the board overstepped its authority with its ban on smokable cannabis and the on-site pharmacist requirement, among other rules the board had passed. “The current rules contain provisions that are inconsistent with the plain language of State Question 788 and the State Board of Health acted outside of its authority when it voted to implement them,” Hunter said in a statement. “Although I didn’t support State Question 788, the people of the state have spoken and I have a legal duty to honor the decision made by the electorate.”
July 19: Things got worse for former Department of Health attorney Ezell. Non Doc reported that State Board of Pharmacy director Chelsea Church had promised Ezell a job if she included the requirement that a pharmacist be on-site. In the end, though, Ezell had not included the pharmacist rule in her recommendations, although the Board of Health overruled her. “My answer will be what I think we can do legally job offer or not,” Ezell had written Church in a text message.
July 23: Organizers of a new ballot initiative to legalize the adult-use of cannabis, fed up with the medical cannabis rule problems, said they were getting close to gathering enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state, though, said the group likely doesn’t have enough. The group, Green the Vote, said days before that Chris Barnett, a Tulsa businessman who lost his run for governor in last month’s Republican primary (receiving only 1% of the vote), pledged to match donations, up to $500K, until Aug. 1.
July 24: Medical cannabis advocacy group New Health Solutions Oklahoma released draft legislation in hopes it could give state lawmakers a push ahead of a new working group of lawmakers slated to meet the next day. The model legislation nixed THC limits, allowed homegrown cannabis, and protected child custody and gun rights for medical cannabis patients.
July 25: A new Medical Marijuana Working Group comprised of state legislators began to meet weekly with other key stakeholders to discuss the state’s new medical cannabis program ahead of the August 25 roll out. Some believed Gov. Mary Fallin should call a special session so state lawmakers could hammer out changes. Oklahoma Sen. Greg McCortney, co-chair of the working group, calls out the tight time frame the state has to implement the law.
“It seems like the average length of time to implement medical marijuana is a year. You gave us about 75 days,” McCortney said to Chip Paul of medical cannabis advocacy group Oklahomans for Health. “We’d love to ask you why.” McCortney added: “Was your intention that you just felt like you had to force the state to do this?”
July 26: Despite the chaos around crafting rules to govern medical cannabis, a portion of the ballot initiative went into effect automatically. SQ 788 said that those found in possession of up to 1.5 ounces can face only a misdemeanor and a $400 fine if they could prove they suffer from a medical condition.
July 29: Green the Vote, the group behind the new recreational cannabis ballot initiative, claimed it had gathered enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. The group would soon come to regret that announcement.
August 1: The Medical Marijuana Working Group held its second meeting. Rep. Steve Kouplen asked the three groups (Green The Vote, Oklahomans for Health, and New Health Solutions) whether practitioners have enough familiarity with cannabis to recommend the right dosage and potency. “To your point, no: physicians don’t know about this system yet,” said Chip Paul, a founder of Oklahomans for Health. “We’re going to educate (practitioners). We’re going to shame them into learning.”
August 6: Gov. Mary Fallin signed new rules from the state Department of Health that didn’t include the controversial ban on smokable cannabis or the pharmacist requirement. In a statement, Fallin called the rules “very basic.” She also said, “I encourage vivid discussion to develop policy proposals to make sure we have a medical marijuana regulatory framework in place that improves the health of Oklahomans who are sick and makes the business side work while protecting the safety of Oklahomans.”
August 7: Green the Vote leaders admitted that they inflated their recreational ballot initiative signature count, and the group would be far short of what they needed to get on the ballot.
August 7: A group of residents sue over Gov. Fallin’s latest round of rules. The Tulsa World reports the suit says: “The Department of Health’s attempt to rectify the mess created by the July 10 amended rules has resulted in an even bigger regulatory dumpster fire than its predecessor.” The attorney general and the health department are expected to respond by August 21.
The medical cannabis law is slated to go into effect four days later.
August 8: In an about-face, Green the Vote submitted signatures to place adult-use legalization on the November ballot despite having said two days prior it did not have enough signatures, according to the AP.