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If a petition filed Thursday leads to amendment of the Oklahoma Constitution, legal purchases of recreational cannabis would be subject to a 15% excise tax, proceeds of which would help pay to operate oversight efforts on those sales.

A cannabis advocacy group has filed two ballot initiatives seeking to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to legalize cannabis use for anyone at least 21 years old and replace the state medical marijuana industry’s current oversight agency.

“A lot of this is stuff that has been advocated for by a lot of folks in the community and industry over the last three years, and I don’t see it’s going to make it through the legislative process any time soon,” Jed Green, who helped establish the group Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, said of State Questions 817 and 818.

According to Green, a new Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission would take over industry oversight from the Oklahoma State Medical Marijuana Authority, which had itself been created under the state Department of Health by State Question 788.

Green was among those who helped get SQ 788 on the June 2018 ballot, which brought cannabis to dispensary shelves for licensed patients by that fall. As of September, Oklahoma had more than 375,000 licensed cannabis patients, as well as more than 2,300 dispensaries, 8,600 growers and 1,500 processors, respectively.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt last year vetoed House Bill 3228, which would, among other changes, have granted patients a way to have cannabis delivered to their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In doing so, he said the bill would have made “substantial policy changes” to the law while being “not fully scrutinized” during the legislative session.

More recently, Stitt announced in August his selection of the fourth director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. In doing so, he said, “I am committed to tackling the major challenges that the explosion of marijuana in Oklahoma is causing across our state.”

According to Green, one of the driving factors for the proposal was to ensure oversight independent from the state Health Department “to increase transparency and create a structure that could be functional.”

“When decisions are being made about how funds are being spent, … you have to go to either the commissioner of health or the governor to understand the decisions that are being made,” he said. “You can try to have conversations and be productive with OMMA directors, but at the end of the day they’re having talks that you’re not in the room for.

“And they’re making decisions that are not in line with the industry, and it’s tough. We have all the reason to believe the governor is not going to sign off on a new state agency if it makes it through the Senate.”

Nearly 178,000 valid signatures would be required on each of the petitions for it to be placed on a ballot in 2022.

The medical petition, called the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Enforcement and Anti-Corruption Act, would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to create, within a year, the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission for medical cannabis businesses and patients. The State Health Department would, at the discretion of the OSCC’s board, retain oversight power on food permit and safety issues with cannabis products.

Green said a lack of enforcement for the cannabis industry has made the state a popular site for illegal activity and that a historic lack of communication to medical cannabis industry members often means they aren’t aware of potential issues in time to be proactive.

“What we’ve seen with that not being done is a big problem,” Green said. “The efforts that the (Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control) is making right now to clean up this variety of, especially illegal grow ops we have; that does not happen overnight. That level of infrastructure does not get built overnight.”

The proposed Cannabis Commission board would include representatives from state agencies that have some form of authority over any aspect of a cannabis business. It also would allocate funding that would help those agencies accomplish their regulation requirements.

The recreational petition, called the Oklahoma Marijuana Regulation and Right to Use Act, would allow adults at least 21 years of age to have up to 8 ounces of cannabis from legal retailers, as well as up to 12 homegrown plants that would not count toward the 8-ounce threshold.

Also, the initiative outlines a path for those who have convictions for cannabis-related offenses to obtain expungements or seek judicial reviews.

Both petitions include language stating that the presence of THC metabolites in a person’s hair or bodily fluid is not on its own proof of impairment or intoxication, nor can tests showing their presence be used to deny housing, health care, public aid or other rights.

Previous attempts to legalize cannabis for adult use through a constitutional amendment have failed, with Green saying he believed past efforts would have benefited from more public comments on drafts before filing ballot initiatives.

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action has shared drafts of the potential ballot measures online through its website and a Google document throughout the summer. The final drafts went public in late September following public feedback.

In lieu of the current 7% tax on medical cannabis established by State Question 788, purchases of recreational cannabis would instead be subject to a 15% excise tax, proceeds of which would help pay to operate oversight efforts on those sales. The tax on medical cannabis products would be reduced to 0% within a year, with gradual decreases at six and nine months after passage.

Extra funds from both programs would go toward aspects such as research, water resources and eight hours of training for law enforcement officers on the evolution of the legal status of cannabis.

That training would be among the continuing education requirements to remain in good standing with the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, the agency that accredits the state’s peace officers.

“We’ve seen rec (recreational cannabis) come into other states and screw up their (medical) program,” Green said. “The No. 1 concern by our medical people is that it will screw up the program.”

But of legalization he said: “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. We need to settle down, get some good transparency and get some new structure.”

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action is expected to maintain a list of signature-gathering locations at orcaok.com.

Featured: Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority update, Oct. 1, 2021

“We basically built an industry backwards, and we are in a good spot now finally to be able to take a breath,” Director Adria Berry said.

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