La­bel­ing bill tops law­mak­ers’ med­i­cal mar­i­juana plan

The Oklahoman - - FRONT PAGE - BY MEG WINGERTER Staff Writer [email protected]­la­homan.com

The Ok­la­homa Leg­is­la­ture’s top two voices on med­i­cal mar­i­juana are hop­ing to quickly pass test­ing rules this ses­sion be­fore mov­ing on to more con­tro­ver­sial is­sues.

Sen. Greg McCort­ney, R-Ada, who co-chaired a med­i­cal mar­i­juana work­ing group that met ahead of the ses­sion, said test­ing and la­bel­ing will be the first pri­or­ity be­cause the state doesn’t have a frame­work for mak­ing sure smok­able mar­i­juana isn’t con­tam­i­nated.

“We can­not guar­an­tee the safety of the prod­ucts be­ing sold in Ok­la­homa, and well, that is ob­vi­ously not a good thing,” he said.

Ok­la­homa vot­ers over­whelm­ingly ap­proved State Ques­tion 788 in June to al­low for med­i­cal mar­i­juana in the state, and pot is be­ing grown and sold. Law­mak­ers and reg­u­la­tory agen­cies still must write rules gov­ern­ing many as­pects of the new in­dus­try. The leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­gins Feb. 4.

Rep. Jon Echols, R-Ok­la­homa City, is the House ma­jor­ity leader and work­ing group co-chair. He said the group has rec­om­mended re­quir­ing mar­i­juana busi­nesses to test for all cannabi­noids and ter­penes — two types of chem­i­cals in the plant — and to la­bel their con­cen­tra­tions.

Most states with med­i­cal mar­i­juana laws only re­quire test­ing for tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC), the chem­i­cal that pro­duces a “high,” and cannabid­iol (CBD), a chem­i­cal that is be­ing stud­ied for med­i­cal uses, Echols said.

The work­ing group wanted to sub­mit those rec­om­men­da­tions to the state Board of Health, but the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice de­ter­mined the board could only reg­u­late mar­i­juana ed­i­bles, not smok­able forms of the drug, Echols said. The Board of Health passed rules reg­u­lat­ing ed­i­bles in De­cem­ber.

Jed Green, po­lit­i­cal direc­tor of the med­i­cal mar­i­juana trade group New Health So­lu­tions Ok­la­homa, said he hopes law­mak­ers will fo­cus on test­ing for con­tam­i­nants that could threaten pub­lic health, like heavy me­tals and pes­ti­cides. It might not be pos­si­ble to list all of the sub­stances in mar­i­juana on la­bels for small prod­ucts, he said, and the med­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions aren’t clear for most chem­i­cals.

“There are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of ter­penes,” he said.

‘Unity bill’ may need work

The next step af­ter set­ting test­ing rules likely will be to pass parts of a 300-page “unity bill” the med­i­cal mar­i­juana sup­port­ers pro­posed to reg­u­late the mar­ket. The unity bill would of­fer a ba­sic frame­work to im­ple­ment State Ques­tion 788 as writ­ten be­fore law­mak­ers con­sider changes to it, McCort­ney said. The changes could be more con­tentious, be­cause of the broad va­ri­ety of view­points about what should be done, he said.

“Per­son­ally, I would love for us to come in the first week of ses­sion and pass the unity bill so we can put it on the gov­er­nor’s desk and have

the rest of the ses­sion to make changes,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that (State Ques­tion) 788 didn’t dis­cuss that we’re not go­ing to in­clude in the unity bill, but where there’s broad con­sen­sus that some­thing needs to be done.”

New Health par­tic­i­pated in writ­ing the unity bill, but some parts will have to be scrapped, Green said. For ex­am­ple, the bill would have lim­ited the num­ber of busi­ness li­censes that would be is­sued and re­stricted the size of grow­ers’ oper­a­tions, but it wouldn’t be fair to im­pose those con­di­tions retroac­tively on ex­ist­ing busi­nesses, he said.

Other pri­or­i­ties could in­clude fund­ing for the Ok­la­homa Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Author­ity to hire more in­spec­tors, set­ting up a seed-to-sale track­ing sys­tem and clar­i­fy­ing em­ploy­ers’ re­spon­si­bil­i­ties if work­ers who use med­i­cal mar­i­juana are in­jured on the job, Echols said.

Dur­ing the in­terim meet­ings, Echols said he would of­fer a bill di­rect­ing state law en­force­ment of­fi­cers not to en­force the fed­eral pro­hi­bi­tion on pos­sess­ing guns and mar­i­juana. Fed­eral agents could still en­force that law them­selves, though they haven’t in other states that le­gal­ized med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

“That’s pro­tec­tion for state law en­force­ment too, be­cause they don’t want to con­fis­cate guns,” Echols said.

The big­gest is­sue for pro-mar­i­juana in­ter­ests may be con­vinc­ing law­mak­ers to treat cannabis not as a dan­ger­ous nar­cotic, but as a po­ten­tial com­mod­ity crop, Green said. The Leg­is­la­ture will have a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of new mem­bers, and it’s not clear how the ma­jor­ity feel about med­i­cal mar­i­juana, he said.

“What we’re hop­ing is they see the writ­ing on the wall, they see what we’ve done,” he said. “It’s as­tound­ing, just as these new busi­nesses are get­ting off the ground, how many jobs they’re cre­at­ing.”

Sen. Greg McCort­ney

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