By Anna Codutti
Story courtesy https://www.tulsaworld.com/
Sen. Lonnie Paxton, a businessman and rancher elected in 2016, was part of the bipartisan medical marijuana legislative working group tasked with recommending legislation regarding the state’s law.
Sen. Greg McCortney and Rep. Jon Echols chaired the bipartisan group that heard proposals regarding State Question 788 that would close gaps and address regulatory needs. Echols says he continues to communicate with McCortney weekly on the legislation they will propose.
Senate Bill 1030 would make alterations to State Question 788, which was approved by Oklahoma voters in June 2018.
Paxton’s measure includes some minor alterations and grammatical fixes. But it also makes one significant change that cuts to the spirit of the law that voters approved in hopes it would be the start of decriminalized marijuana.
“I think that’s a dangerous path, on any initiative-led petition, to change what the people just said the year after they said it,” Echols said after reviewing Paxton’s bill. “Strong changes to 788, anything the people voted in, that’s not something I’m going to support.”
Per the language of the bill as filed, this is what Paxton’s measure would do if passed:
• SQ 788 ensures patients who have not yet obtained their state license but are found to be in possession of less than 1.5 ounces of marijuana would face only a misdemeanor charge and $400 fine. Paxton’s measure would instead institute those penalties for a licensed patient who is not in possession of their state-issued card at the time of the law enforcement action. Those who have no patient license would be subject to the same criminal law as before SQ788.
• SQ 788 seals patient applications and ensures no personal information is retained for the state’s digital records of patient licenses. Paxton’s measure would have the state retain all information from patient applications, but the records would still be sealed.
• Paxton’s measure would allow municipalities to enact ordinances banning patients from smoking or vaping anywhere that’s not a private residence.
SQ788 protects patients from being punished by employers, refused by schools and declined by landlords “unless failing to do so would imminently cause (the employer, school or renter) to lose a monetary or licensing related benefit under federal law or regulations.” Paxton’s measure would remove “imminently,” instead saying “the potential” to lose money is enough to allow patient discrimination.
• Paxton’s measure would add a classification of employees not protected as patients if they are in a “safety-sensitive position.” Those employees could be fired upon a positive test for marijuana or a determination that the employee holds a patient card.
• SQ788 states that municipalities cannot change laws to prevent the opening of a retail marijuana establishment. Paxton’s measure adds language clarifying that clause but would establish that growers and processors may be prohibited, by ordinance, from opening within the limits of a city or county.
• SQ788 states that medical marijuana establishments may not be located within 1,000 feet of a school entrance. Paxton would have that changed to include only dispensaries in the distance requirement.
• SQ788 established what’s been called a gross receipts tax of 7 percent on retail medical marijuana sales. Paxton would specifically call that a sales tax and add language that ensures municipalities would be permitted to add additional local sales tax on medical marijuana. (Note: A lawsuit over the established tax structure is pending, as Oklahoma Tax Commission is instructing retailers to collect not only the 7 percent tax but also a 4.5 percent Oklahoma state sales tax.)
Echols said lawmakers will continue to look at legislation that would ensure the erosion of the black market for marijuana in Oklahoma.
“I think there are other things we can do that are consistent with the will of the people that will have a medical system compliant with what the people voted on but deal with issues like oversupply and targeting our black market,” he said. “We’ll do everything to help the legal market succeed and take steps to punish those who would try to continue on the black market.”