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Making the rules: Legislators seek balance for Oklahoma cannabis market regulations.

Byline: Journal Record Staff

OKLAHOMA CITY Striking a balance between the rights of employees and the interests of their employers will be the chief objective of Oklahoma lawmakers as they establish rules governing the use, sale and production of medical marijuana this year, Republican and Democratic leaders in the Oklahoma House and Senate said Thursday.

Nearly eight months after Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, which legalized medical cannabis, businesses, patients and growers have been moving forward without knowing much about how the industry will be regulated. Their only source for guidance is SQ 788, which has been criticized for its lack of regulatory detail.

"The petition was not perfectly drafted," Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, said during a panel discussion with other lawmakers. "It's our responsibility as legislators to make sure it's implemented properly."

The Legislature has been tasked to provide the industry a regulatory framework that goes beyond the oversight contained in SQ 788, which was approved in June. This year's legislative session begins Monday.

"It's extremely important that the will of the people be implemented, but it's equally important public safety and public health are protected," said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. "So testing and labeling is a true public safety issue we've got to address early on."

Employers remain liable for injuries, accidents and workplace mishaps and should be offered some protection against licensed workers who show signs of impairment, Floyd said. On the flip side, SQ 788 provides anti-discrimination protections for medical marijuana license holders, with exceptions, and prohibits employers from disciplining or terminating an employee based solely on a positive drug test.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, noted Oklahoma is an at-will employment state, which means employees can be fired for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal. Rules protecting both employees and employers should be incorporated into legislation, she said.

"Protecting employees is, of course, important," Virgin said. "But protecting your right as a business to make sure you don't have employees impaired on the job, especially in safety-sensitive industries is very important to us as well."

Bud Scott, executive director of the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association, saidhe hopes lawmakers avoidunreasonable restrictions such as limits on square footage or the number of facilities an entrepreneur can own.

"Our goal is to have the most friendly business environment possible," Scott told The Journal Record after Thursday's panel discussion. "We're just asking for the same amount of levity and opportunity to grow as any other industry in Oklahoma."

Proper protocols for testing and lab accreditation is one of the association's top legislative priorities, Scott said.

"We're hoping that any of the protocols that are recommended will be consistent with what has already been approved by the Board of Health and the governor for our edibles testing regulations," he said.

SQ 788, Scott said, has positioned Oklahoma to become one of the largest cannabis exporters in the nation, thanks to the state's low cost of licensing, land and labor.

"I'm not sure enough legislators are really picking up on that," he said. "We have companies coming here from all over the country, not to participate in Oklahoma's market, but to prepare for nationalization."

Meanwhile, without guidance from the state, several Oklahoma cities have passed local ordinances to regulate the sale of medical marijuana. Many of those cities, however, were sued by medical marijuana businesses, claiming cities don't have the authority to impose standards that don't agree with SQ 788.

Those ordinances generally called for zoning restrictions, licensing fees and mandatory permits.

Scott said his association has no problem with general zoning guidelines. Laws that keep the industry from entering a local market pose a bigger concern, he said.

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Publication:Journal Record (Oklahoma City, OK)
Geographic Code:1U7OK
Date:Jan 31, 2019
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