A lot has changed in a year.
This month marks one year since Oklahoma voters took to the polls in support of legalizing medical marijuana. Since that time laws have taken effect, policies evolved, and businesses have opened in even the most rural corners of the state.
According to Associated Press reports, medical marijuana sales are continuing to climb in Oklahoma, topping $23 million in May.
The Oklahoma Tax Commission shows the state collected more than $1.6 million in May from the seven percent excise tax on marijuana with another $2 million collected in state and local sales tax.
Dispensaries and growers abound in Rogers County
The number of licenses issued for medical marijuana growers and dispensaries grows daily.
According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, there are currently 59 licensed growers in Rogers County:
Claremore has the largest number with 23, followed by Inola with 12 and Chelsea with 8.
A total of 16 dispensaries are licensed in Rogers County.
Again, Claremore leads the pack with a total of 12.
The OMMA reported that as of June 3, a total of 129,085 patient, 818 caregiver, 3,026 grower, 1,479 dispensary licenses have been approved state-wide.
All the difference
Locally, Brittany Tobey, is one of those caregivers.
Tobey said, "My husband is a marine corps veteran who is 100% completely and permanently disabled due to PTSD. He has used marijuana for years to help with his symptoms, however since his wife, me, is a police officer, for a long time he was unable to use the medication without seriously risking his wife’s career along with the custody of our children being put at risk as well.
She added, "Since the legalization of medical marijuana, I helped him obtain his medical marijuana license, I am also listed as his caregiver; meaning I can have his medicine in my possession without putting my career and custody of my children at risk."
She said the positive impact on their lives in the year since legalization is immeasurable.
"He says he is mostly relieved about not feeling like a criminal anymore, not feeling like he is risking the custody of our children, and being able to reduce the amount chemical compound pharmaceutical medications he was being prescribed," she said.
From bad to worse
Sheriff Scott Walton has been vocally opposed to medical marijuana since word of the ballot measure surfaced. One year later, he stands by his opinion.
Walton said there are still numerous unanswered questions and that it's too soon to see "just how bad" things have gotten.
He predicts statistics showing an increase in traffic fatalities and employment problems.
"Marijuana use will continue to increase and I think we will see the age people begin to use it getting younger and younger," Walton said. "There were three groups of people that voted yes for SQ 788, the ones that were set to make money for the production and sale, the people that like to use, and the misinformed. And I think the misinformed were a large percentage."
He added, "I think there will be an 'I told you so' moment in this deal. If anybody thinks the revenue generated from this is a great thing, they'll learn what Colorado learned and that's for every dollar generated from the production, sale and taxation, more dollars will be spent on repairs and the things that go along with that."
Walton said things have turned out as he predicted.
"We will see continued growth in the production and sale, I don't think it's hit it's peak yet," he said. "I certainly believe it will get worse."
Too soon to tell
Claremore Police Department's Chief Stan Brown said frankly, it's too soon to tell.
"I think the true answer to this question is that we really didn't have empirical data to make projections in this issue one way or the other. Certainly, from the law enforcement side we historically, have seen and experienced the negative social issues that marijuana consumption have created in our youth, family settings, and in our habitual criminals. I still stand by the maxim that marijuana is a "gateway drug". I am also mindful that it can have possible, positive medical treatment benefits and usage when properly prescribed and utilized with a true medical doctor's expertise and oversight," he said.
Brown continued, "I still believe that we will have negative consequence in long-term with people with addictive personality. I know this is only a conceptual term but it has proven to be straightforward in our national, state , and local level issue with opioid addiction. You only have to examine that opioids were monitored and prescribed by licensed physicians and that illicit and dangerous usage grew into a national crisis. The tend is turning, physicians have reduced prescription dosage numbers and the persons with pre-existing and/or developed addiction are turning to street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl to replace the opioids previously prescribed and supposedly doctor monitored. I am concerned we are on the same path with this loosely monitored, self-regulated medical marijuana movement."
Brown said he's surprised at the rapid growth in Claremore.
"The one thing that has surprised me is the number of dispensaries that have popped up. I have concerns the market will be flooded and people will begin to dispose of the surplus available marijuana by illegally sharing or selling. I can't point to a specific arrest or indictment for this as of yet but anticipate that law enforcement will have to deal with this matter in time," he said.
"The city has taken the responsibility to enact zoning and business ordinances for dispensaries and growers here. So far, this has contributed to few issues with dispensaries. The only issue I've had to deal with as Chief is a few informal complaints from persons who did not want to share business space or outlets with dispensaries, fearing there would be a negative impact or perception placed on their business."