OKFB organizes a successful leadership conference

More than 100 Oklahoma Farm Bureau members, guests and legislators gathered for the OKFB State Leadership Conference on Tuesday, Feb. 15 in Oklahoma City.

The event started with Donnie Anderson, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, giving an update on medical marijuana in Oklahoma and explaining the challenges posed by the burgeoning industry. Anderson shared with OKFB members the growth the OBN has seen in the industry’s illegal activities.

“Drug trafficking organizations have infiltrated Oklahoma,” he said.

Oklahoma has seen exponential growth in marijuana operations – both legal and illegal – due to cheaper land prices, inexpensive license fees, and no limits on the number of dispensaries. Oklahoma has 2,300 marijuana dispensaries, while states like Oregon, Colorado, and California have a fraction with 560, 520, and 261, respectively.

Oklahoma also issued 382,069 medical marijuana cards, or nearly 10% of the state’s roughly 4 million people, Anderson said.

He also highlighted the impacts of marijuana operations on the land, the environment, and the surrounding community. The main environmental impacts are mold, waste and improper disposal, electrical hazards, excessive water consumption and strain on the electrical grid. Other impacts include suspect land sales, public safety and law enforcement security.

“It didn’t happen overnight, and it’s not going to change overnight,” Anderson said.

Members of the Farm Bureau also had the chance to hear Adria Berry, executive director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Six months into his role at OMMA, Berry is optimistic about the direction his organization is headed.

“We can change the way we go and we can change the way we do things,” she said.

Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry began with the passage of State Question 788 in June 2018 and now has more than 8,300 growers in the state, Berry said.

Like Anderson, Berry attributed the unprecedented growth to the lack of licensing caps and the lack of qualifying requirements for obtaining a medical marijuana card.

Berry said the process to get a medical marijuana card is as simple as meeting a doctor online and submitting the doctor’s recommendation along with a photo ID. The applicant often receives his card within a week.

She encouraged OKFB members to be part of the solution and to contact her organization if they notice suspicious activity.

During dinner, Senator Roger Thompson and Representative Kevin Wallace visited with participants to give an update on state appropriations and budget.

They talked about the proposed elimination of the grocery tax and the importance of increasing state savings. They also discussed expanding rural broadband, improving roads and bridges, and the importance of Oklahoma State University’s extension service.

State Auditor Cindy Byrd kicked off the afternoon speaker list, discussing her role as a state auditor and the many types of audits she performs.

“It’s very important to me as a state auditor to listen to our citizens,” she said.

Byrd explained the role ad valorem taxes play in funding public schools and shared details from the Epic Charter Schools Investigative Audit. She also encouraged OKFB members to get involved in county government and to volunteer to serve on county councils.

“Taxpayer funds must be protected,” she said.

Members of the Farm Bureau also had the opportunity to hear from the Oklahoma delegation congress staff, including staff from the offices of Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Frank Lucas. They visited OKFB members about the upcoming farm bill, challenges with U.S. waters, and growing tension between Russia and Ukraine.

Harrison Pittman, director of the National Ag Law Center, gave the opening speech for the evening, emphasizing the importance of understanding agriculture before understanding agricultural law. Pittman explained the factors that influence agricultural law, including consumer influence, interdependence with foreign countries, and tactical changes.

He also spoke about the future of agricultural law, citing challenges such as increasing foreign ownership of farmland and urban encroachment on rural areas.

The evening concluded with a reception and dinner to honor state legislators and recognize the 10 lawmakers who received the 2021 OKFB Champion Award. Winners of the Champion Award for the 2021 legislative session included Speaker of the House Charles McCall, Rep. Ryan Martinez, Rep. Dell Kerbs, Rep. Carl Newton, Rep. John Pfeiffer, Senator Greg Treat, Senator Darcy Jech, Senator Lonnie Paxton, Senator Frank Simpson, and Senator Zack Taylor.

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