Oklahoma Cannabis Advocates Promise Legal Challenges to Three Marijuana Bills

Despite the three contentious bills, lobbyists say they were able to avoid a disastrous session.

Following the failure in March of a recreational marijuana legalization ballot question in Oklahoma, many cannabis industry observers expected the conservative governor and legislature to take that as a green light to crack down on the state’s existing and enormous medical cannabis market, which critics say is out of control.

In some ways, that crackdown has already begun, as regulators take a closer look at many of the license holders.

In addition, state lawmakers have approved several bills to ramp the crackdown up even further, including House Bill 2095 and Senate Bill 913, which respectively would give new enforcement powers over cultivators to several state agencies and establish a new requirement for growers to purchase a $50,000 state bond to ensure “site cleanup” if they abandon the grow.

There’s also a bill from last year, HB 2179, that would raise annual licensing fees “astronomically,” said Jed Green, the director of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, who lobbies lawmakers on marijuana policy.

Though HB 2179 is slated to go into effect June 1, Green said his organization plans to challenge it in court before then, along with the new bills – and predicts all three will be struck down.

“We believe we’ve got a strong enough case that we’ll be able to go and get an immediate injunction on it,” Green said of the fee hike. “I estimate we’re going to save our industry between $75 million and $125 million worth of license fees, if we’re able to beat this.”

The legislative session adjourns May 26, and currently, there’s an intra-party political feud going on in the GOP between Gov. Kevin Stitt and some Republican lawmakers who aren’t totally on board with his political agenda on reforming education, which is sucking both time and air out of the Capitol, Green said.

That means there’s not a lot of leeway for lawmakers to push additional anti-cannabis bills through before the end of the 2023 session.

A Measure of Success

Much of the remaining cannabis-related legislation is either favorable to the industry or doesn’t have an impact, such as bills that determine how cannabis taxes are spent, Green said.

“Given that we started this year with roughly 80 bills coming at us, and it looks like we’ll get that down to 8-10 bills that actually pass – the majority we’ve greenlighted – we’re really positive about the results of our advocacy,” Green said. “We were able to prevent an amazing amount of stuff coming at us.”

The upshot is that while a reckoning may still be on the way for “bad actors” in the industry, Green said, the crackdown narrative has been somewhat overblown in the media. There are a few other cannabis bills ORCA is still tracking this session, but most of the contentious new propositions have already been defeated.

“We didn’t get anything that really benefited our industry. We don’t expect to around here, out of our legislature,” Green said. “As far as this legislative session went, we’re in pretty good shape.”

John Schroyer

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