A New ‘Wild, Wild West’: Regulating the State’s Medical Marijuana Industry Requires a Team Effort | News
When a small, illegal medical marijuana growing business was discovered near Fairmont by the Oklahoma State Fire Marshal’s office earlier this year, everyone quickly got to work .
After the state notified the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Cory Rink said the two agencies contacted the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics together.
The three agencies then worked together and helped shut down the grow operation, which had started growing marijuana plants before obtaining a business license, Rink said.
“Obviously, we got a search warrant for the property based on the information we had from the other law enforcement entity,” he said. “We went in, executed the search warrant, confiscated all the illegal plants and of course we tagged them as evidence… then OBN took those plants and properly destroyed them. “
Major County Deputy Sheriff Wes Mongold said law enforcement was overwhelmed by the number of legal and illegal crops, so partnerships between agencies to regulate the marijuana industry at Medical purposes in Oklahoma are paramount, especially as they continue to adapt to the medical marijuana industry. .
“We have certainly experienced, as law enforcement agencies, growing pains trying to enforce these cultures,” Mongold said. “It would be impossible to do without the cooperation of other local and state agencies.”
Following the passage of State Question 788, the medical marijuana industry exploded and hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans now hold a medical marijuana license.
Medical marijuana has helped patients with many problems such as anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia or sleep disturbances, and the industry has generated millions in tax revenue for the state, including 76,545,964 $ in state and local sales tax from January to November of this year, according to a December tax revenue report.
With the rapid boom, however, an industry quickly emerged that was difficult to regulate.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health was only given 60 days after passing SQ 788 to begin licensing medical marijuana, which state officials say , created a “chaotic situation”.
“Sixty days to build an entire agency was a very, very short period of time… and I think we are now able to get a little relief on the profits and start being proactive,” Adria said. Berry, executive director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
Berry said there are low barriers to entry into the medical marijuana industry, as OMMA is required to license all applicants who provide the agency with all the appropriate documents and pay. the necessary costs without any discretion.
Now 13,785 companies – including 9,403 producers, 2,519 dispensaries and 1,713 processors – are licensed in the state, including 62 producers, 30 dispensaries and 14 processors in Garfield County, for a total of 107 facilities.
“A rotten apple”
There are many rules and regulations that Oklahoma growers have to follow, including tracking plants in a seed-for-sale system, having proper safety measures in place, keeping waste disposal logs for five years and the completion of field log samples.
OMMA’s grow inspection form reference sheet has 66 things to look for, and if any licensed medical marijuana companies violate these rules and regulations, OBN spokesperson Mark Woodward said. that OBN tries to work with them on a case-by-case basis.
“We could give them, for example, 30 days to come into compliance,” said Woodward. “They could also face fines or possibly the suspension or revocation of their license.”
Sheriff Rink said companies in the medical marijuana industry that operate legally and follow rules and regulations can be harmed by producers who are not.
“A rotten apple that can ruin the whole bushel,” he said.
Brandy Frisbee, Compliance Manager for Natural Remedies MMJ Grow, said without a lot of regulation and enforcement of rules and regulations so far, some growers have done whatever they want such as not having a system seed sales without worry. for repercussions.
“We’re not going to be seen as a medicinal and valuable industry until we get rid of the ‘Wild, Wild West’ that’s going on due to lack of law enforcement,” she said.
The costs are much higher for producers who obey all laws and regulations than for those who do not, Frisbee said, adding that it is more difficult to survive in the industry when they are in competition with them. .
Frisbee said she believes medical marijuana companies are breaking rules and regulations and illegal crops are giving the entire industry a bad name.
“It just gives more leverage to the negative stigma we created with the war on drugs years ago,” she said.
A common effort
Berry said in November that OMMA was catching up on compliance inspections by hiring and then training more people to become compliance inspectors, and in a December 6 email she said she was continuing to staffing the compliance department.
“Our investigative unit works closely with local and national law enforcement and has already started investigating OMMA licensed companies,” Berry said in the email.
OMMA has hired a liaison to work with agencies and state councils, she said, “to make sure we’re all on the same page, working to improve the issues. existing regarding industry – especially in rural Oklahoma. “
Woodward said the Bureau of Narcotics makes sure medical marijuana companies have security features to guard against theft and embezzlement, such as pharmacies and hospitals.
Another obligation, Woodward said, is to research companies that operate without a license or sell products illegally.
From April to September of this year, Woodward said OBN received around 50 to 100 tips each week regarding suspicious or potentially illegal crops. Since April, around 80 marijuana farms have been shut down by the OBN or other assisted law enforcement agencies, and around 100 more grow operations are currently under investigation.
Most of them moved product out of state or received a registration under false pretenses, Woodward said. Oklahoma residents can pose as “ghost owners” and claim majority ownership of a business so that a non-resident can avoid regulations that say medical marijuana businesses in the state. should be primarily owned by an Oklahoma resident.
Two of those 80 illegal crops took place in Major County.
In early June, sheriff’s deputies and narcotics officers, with help from the Alfalfa County Sheriff’s Office and the Cherokee Police Department, stopped an unlicensed cultivation operation, seizing and destroying more than 8,000 marijuana plants.
Deputy Sheriff Mongold said the investigation lasted about a month before the cultivation shutdown.
“We had to take several steps to make sure that we exhausted all efforts to make sure the cultivation was legal or not. He said, “because we don’t want to slip up and unduly enforce the law on operations that are legal because that’s not what we’re here to do.”
This story is part three in a series on the growing medical marijuana industry in Northwestern Oklahoma and the rest of the state.