2021 Brings Changes To Oklahoma’s Medical Marijuana Program
After medical marijuana was legalized in Oklahoma in June of 2018, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority had only 60 days to prop up the entire program, forcing the agency to play catch up over the past two-and-a-half years. But 2021 brings changes to the state’s medical marijuana program, including a new seed-to-sale system and quality assurance lab, and the upcoming legislative session could mean even more.
The OMMA awarded a contract to the Florida-based company Metrc in September to implement a seed-to-sale system, which is expected to launch in February.
Kelly Williams, interim director of the OMMA, said it will account for the full lifespan of every plant and product across the state.
“We’ll be able to see the movement of those packages and products, and then when we go on site, we’ll be able to verify what is supposed to be on site versus what's actually there,” she said. “So we'll have an extra layer of accountability, plant for plant, package for package that we don't have without a system like this currently.”
This is possible through the use of Metrc’s RFID tags, which every grower and processor will have to purchase and use to label every plant and package. All licensed medical marijuana businesses will also be required to pay a monthly fee to be in the Metrc system.
Williams said it will also help ensure the products being transferred between licensed businesses have been tested properly and will allow the OMMA to respond more quickly if a product does need to be recalled.
“If we become aware of product that is unsafe and should not be transferred, we can actually utilize the seed-to-sale system to notify all licensees instantly that they may possess that product and prevent them from making movements of that product inside the system,” Williams said.
The Metrc tracking system is used in 14 other states and D.C.
Jay Czarkowski, founding partner of the marijuana consulting firm Canna Advisors in Colorado, said the Metrc seed-to-sale system is tried-and-true and will bolster accountability.
“We in Colorado many years ago had to go out and purchase these RFID tags for the first time,” Czarkowski said. “Those that have these cultivation (grower) licenses and maybe are playing games right now, maybe sending products down to Texas or other states, they're going to have a more difficult time playing in those gray areas once the Metrc system begins to be implemented.”
But even with its widespread use in the cannabis industry, the system has still caused skepticism among some in Oklahoma.
Joey Meibergen, CEO and co-founder of Primal Cannabis in Garfield County, grows 50,000 plants on 90 acres. He doesn’t think the Metrc tracking system fits well with Oklahoma’s light-touch medical marijuana regulations and low barrier to entry since unlike some other states that use Metrc, Oklahoma has no limit on the number of licensed growers or the amount of plants that can be grown.
“It works great for the guy that's got the 2,000 square foot indoor grow or the 10,000 square foot greenhouse, but it doesn't work well for the guy that has 50,000 plants in the field at one time growing on 90 acres,” Meibergen said. “They're just not designed for that type of a scale.”
State legislators have also expressed concerns over the price of Metrc’s RFID tags, which are $0.45 per plant and $0.25 cents per package. Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R-Okmulgee) said while he supports seed-to-sale tracking, he worries the price of the tags could add on to the state and local fees for medical marijuana businesses and drive up the cost of the product for patients.
“If the fees grow too high then ultimately you can buy on the black market much less expensive than you could legally, and so instead of having a legal program, we just make the black market larger,” Fetgatter said.
In addition to the seed-to-sale system, the OMMA also contracted in August with the Oklahoma lab Metis to work as the state’s quality assurance lab, which aims to establish best testing practices and address inconsistencies across the state’s 23 licenced medical marijuana labs.
Williams said the quality assurance lab has been conducting proficiency tests by sending known samples to all of the state’s medical marijuana labs to see if they can correctly test for potency, pesticides, microbials, solvents, heavy metals and mycotoxins.
The quality assurance lab will also do biannual lab visits and random sampling of products at dispensaries.
Dr. Charles Bogie, president of Integrity Testing Labs in Oklahoma City, said the quality assurance lab will help catch medical marijuana products that may not have been tested accurately at other labs.
“I'm excited about having an umpire finally, so that when we report the correct number, that number is known across the industry as being an honest number, and you can't go shop to another lab to get the number that you want,”Bogie said.
As the start of 2021 legislative session approaches, more changes could be in store for Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry.
Fetgatter has introduced a few pieces of legislation related to cannabis, including House Bill 1960, which would allow for home delivery of medical marijuana, and House Bill 1961, known as the Oklahoma Adult Access to Marijuana Act, which would put a vote to Oklahomans on allowing for people over 21 years of age or older to purchase marijauna for personal use.
Fetgatter initially opposed State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana, but when it passed with nearly 57% of the vote in 2018, he put his personal feelings aside and began to learn more about cannabis as a state legislator.
Now he said there’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t have some type of conversation about medical marijuana.
“When I write a law, I'm not concerned about someone who is using marijuana just to get high...,” Fetgatter said. “When I write a marijuana law, I truly am thinking about that grandmother who has rheumatoid arthritis and can't hold her grandbabies or that grandfather that was like mine and had Parkinson's.”
The 2021 legislative session begins Feb.1.
KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.