OPINION

Medical marijuana needs to be better regulated

Sen. Bill Coleman

Another legislative session is in the books, along with around 550 bills that will become law within the year.

Last time, I discussed the budget and the tremendous financial investments that will be made in our core state services in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. Some of the highlights include historic funding for classrooms, restoring all agency cuts made last year due to the pandemic and low energy prices, tax relief for all Oklahomans and businesses, and significant investments in economic diversification efforts.

We’re also infusing more than $15.5 million in additional funding into the REAP (Rural Economic Action Plan), which along with expanding broadband services, will help people living in rural Oklahoma. This program provides grants for major water, transportation and other infrastructure projects in small communities with populations under 7,000.

Another challenge in our state, especially rural Oklahoma, is lack of adequate access to health care. Besides providing the $164 million for the first year of the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, we also restored a historic sales tax credit for OU Health, which will help train new nurses and doctors who will hopefully stay and work in underserved, rural areas. We also appropriated nearly $10 million to create a children’s mental health unit at OU Health.

Protecting Oklahomans from federal overreach was also a priority this session. The Attorney General’s Office will be receiving $10 million to help cover the costs of representing the state in legal issues related to the McGirt case, as well as to investigate and monitor land purchases in our state by foreign nationals trying to get a piece of our booming medical marijuana industry.

Speaking of the medical marijuana industry, we approved Senate Bill 1033, which will be important for our district. It will allow the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD) and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Association (OMMA) to enter into agreements to hire more agents to enforce our state’s medical marijuana laws. The OBNDD is already equipped for enforcement, so this partnership only makes sense and will protect legitimate businesses while getting rid of the illegal establishments and activity that is rampant in our state.

Several other bills were approved to better regulate this booming industry and provide better guidance to the OBNDD and OMMA of their roles, as well as provide structure to producers, growers and business owners. One compels OMMA compliance in conducting new licensee inspections and requires disclosure of any foreign ownership by Oct. 1 with the risk of license revocation. Another strengthens OMMA’s authority to revoke licenses. Another requires OMMA to hire another 62 compliance and enforcement positions, along with more positions to perform legal, financial, planning and logistics duties along with investigations. In order to protect public safety, this growing industry must be better regulated and black market activity must be stopped.

We’ll talk more about some of the other policies that were approved this session next time.

I hope everyone had a safe and happy Memorial Day holiday. While many celebrated the end of school and the beginning of summer, let’s not lose sight of the true reason for the national holiday. It’s not about hotdogs and cookouts but remembering and honoring the millions of fallen American soldiers who bravely and selflessly sacrificed their lives for the sake of our freedom and that of others around the world. We must never forget that freedom is never free. It comes with a high price, one that thousands of Oklahoma’s sons and daughters have paid. Let’s take some time to remember these fallen heroes and their families.

You can contact me by calling 405-521-5581 or emailing Bill.Coleman@oksenate.gov.