We’ve completed week two of the 2020 legislative session, and with it we began hearing bills in committee and on the Senate floor. It’s looking to be a busy month – we have 840 Senate Bills and 19 Senate Joint Resolutions to consider before our Senate bill committee deadline on Feb. 27.
Two bills I will present in committee in the coming weeks deal with medical marijuana. I’ve received several questions about these bills, so I want to explain their intent and why they are necessary.
When the voters approved legalizing medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot, it was up to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority and the legislature to develop the rules surrounding the industry since the state question was so vague. Some rules were set last year, but as the industry grows and develops, its apparent there are things that were missed.
Senate Bill 1469 addresses one of these “misses.” It would require applicants for a medical marijuana dispensary, processor and commercial growers’ licenses to submit written proof of liability insurance in the amount of $1 million, as well as workers compensation coverage, beginning July 1, 2020. Requiring insurance for any business dealing with medical marijuana is a commonsense decision. What happens if a growing or processing operation accidentally mixes the wrong formulation of fertilizer and a chemical leak, fire or explosion occurs? If the building is leased, would the landlord be held liable for the damage? Would the state have to spend taxpayer dollars to clean up a chemical spill? These are all points not addressed by current medical marijuana regulations. Requiring a liability insurance policy would provide a layer of financial protection for taxpayers to mitigate the risks of the medical marijuana industry.
Additionally, marijuana is a controlled substance, which presents substantial risks. Pharmacies, which also store controlled substances, carry insurance policies. This is a responsible approach, and dispensaries should be no different. Insurance protects all parties involved – plain and simple. It’s important we set these regulations so our taxpayers are not held liable for issues that may occur.
Senate Bill 1519 puts the power to restrict the sale of medical marijuana into the hands of each municipality or county in our state. The measure would authorize a municipality or county to restrict the sale and use of medical marijuana by a majority of voters in that municipality or county. An election on the issue would be called by the municipal governing body or the board of county commissioners upon receipt of a petition signed by registered voters constituting of no less than 15 percent of total voting residents from the last general election.
Only 35 of 77 counties in Oklahoma voted in favor of the 2018 state question that legalized medical marijuana. Even further, only 7 of the 35 counties that approved the measure did so by a wide margin. While a majority of our Oklahoma counties did not approve the measure, the counties that did were vastly urban with large populations. Because of this, our rural counties and municipalities were left in the dust.
Since our state marijuana regulations are so broad, many cities, counties and local law enforcement entities are left dealing with an influx of marijuana-related issues. Let’s let each individual county or town decide if they want to regulate medical marijuana in their areas. Senate Bill 1519 does not take away the vote of the people or deregulate medical marijuana in Oklahoma. It is still very legal in our state. Instead, the measure gives local control to our municipalities and lets them decide what is best for their areas.
My office is always open to hear your comments and concerns. If I can assist you in any way, please feel free to contact me or my executive assistant, Donna Garlick, at 405-521-5555, or come see us in room 419 if you are visiting the Capitol.