OKLAHOMA CITY — Renee Harper admits that up until recently she has never been this politically involved.
The Moore businesswoman said that all changed in June when voters passed State Question 788 legalizing medical marijuana, and state officials started insulting voters’ intelligence.
“I think a lot of us were just aggravated when they insinuated we didn’t know what we voted for with 788, and that just started this wave of people,” said Harper, referring to crowded benches a at recent legislative medical marijuana meeting at the Capitol. Harper, of Oklahoma City, hopes to turn her Moore cannabidiol store into a marijuana dispensary.
In addition to her normal CBD products, Harper said customers have been snapping up T-shirts that read “Mad as Hell.” The slogan took off after state officials angered cannabis supporters by passing a controversial set of emergency regulations that included bans on smokable forms of the drug and a requirement that pharmacists work in all dispensaries, she said.
“Over-regulation now, means unemployment in November for politicians,” she said.
Since July, Harper is among a plethora of people jockeying for space in state Capitol committee rooms and state Board of Health meetings.
More often than not, there are seats aplenty at routine legislative committee and Board of Health meetings. Recently, whenever the topic of medical marijuana is up for discussion, meeting rooms are packed with engaged spectators hanging on every word. Officials have had to open overflow viewing rooms and encourage participants to stream meetings online from home.
‘A part of history'
Entrepreneurs Sherri Lewis, and her husband, Wesley, left their Muskogee home at 6 a.m. Wednesday to ensure they’d make it on time to Wednesday’s 9 a.m. legislative meeting. After hearing lawmakers spend hours discussing cannabis regulation, the couple headed over to the state Department of Health where the Board of Health was set to approve a new round of rules.
“We keep showing up at all the meetings because we want to hear it firsthand instead of just what everybody is publishing,” said Sherri Lewis. “Our whole schedule is revolving around these meetings.”
The couple plans to seek licensing to grow their own medical marijuana and then sell it from a hometown dispensary.
Sherri Lewis said she spends every evening reading the rules, which seem to change every day. She believes those constant changes are driving the increased interest, she said.
“A lot of (lawmakers) come from backgrounds where it (marijuana) is frowned upon,” said John Branson.
Branson is an Edmond retiree who hopes to work for a cannabis dispensary. He spontaneously decided to attend the health board meeting after he heard about it on the news.
He arrived two hours early.
“I just want to be a part of history,” he said.
Weed to seed
Tony Winner, of Piedmont, hopes to operate his own seed-to-store operation in either his hometown or Oklahoma City. Winner said he’s attended every health board and legislative meeting since the election because he believes state leaders truly want — and need — public input.
He considered himself lucky that he was allowed to sit in the Board of Health room Wednesday.
While overall attendance Wednesday seemed down from the July meetings, there still wasn’t enough space in the boardroom. Dozens of attendees found themselves seated inside an overflow room in a different part of the building.
“The thing about it is, we need to get this to the patients as fast as we can possibly get it to the patients, and if nobody tells them (lawmakers) what to do, they have no idea,” Winner said. “The legislators, most of them aren’t doctors. They’re not pharmacists. They’re not perspective patients. They’re legislators.”
Winner said he’ll continue attending every state medical marijuana meeting even if crowd sizes dwindle.
“People don’t want to put in the effort in until it’s there,” he said. “I do. I’m going to keep coming to (meetings) until I’m busy growing seeds.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.