Beyond the metropolitan areas of Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma is sprawling with open rural prairies that are perfect for cannabis cultivation. The prairielands are practically begging to be planted with cannabis seeds. Oklahoma’s medical cannabis industry is forming at a rapid rate—and there is little, if anything, that lawmakers can do to slow down the progress.
On June 26, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, blindsiding some conservative state leaders who didn’t expect medical cannabis to ever arrive in their state. Local media outlets renamed the state “Toklahoma,” because of its loose regulations. Based on these fears, healthcare providers such as Saint Francis Health System and Oklahoma State University Medical Center banned their doctors from recommending medical cannabis. But the state’s medical cannabis industry is still winning the war.
Despite these initial roadblocks, the Oklahoma Department of Health expects to grant over 80,000 patients with medical cannabis recommendations. According to a Sept. 24 tweet by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA), over 1,100 businesses were approved for licenses, plus over 5,000 patient applications. Only a week later, hundreds more were approved.
“As of Sept. 30, we have granted around 1,400 business applications,” Spokesperson Melissa Miller of the OMMA told CULTURE B2B. “Of those, around 700 are growers, around 200 are processors, and around 500 are dispensaries. We just started taking applications for all types of businesses—caregivers, growers, processors. We just started taking those applications on Aug. 25. So we’re only a month into the program at this point.”
The application process keeps the OMMA crew busy at all times during the introductory period, but the organization’s spokesperson sounded relatively unfazed by the flurry of activity. “We’re in the middle of it right now,” Miller said.
Having a high number of licensees, however, isn’t always a good thing. Oklahoma-based lawyers have raised the logistical question of whether or not thousands of medical cannabis businesses can be profitable in a state with only four million residents. According to The Associated Press, the ratio of medical cannabis patients to dispensaries in Oklahoma is 12:1. Imagine running a dispensary with only 12 customers—making a profit would be impossible. Per the language of State Question 788, there is no cap on the number of businesses. Moreover, local jurisdictions are prohibited from enacting zoning laws to prevent medical cannabis businesses from opening. Few states, if any, have that kind of leniency towards caps on the number of cannabis businesses allowed. Local medical cannabis groups have urged the state to be careful how the medical cannabis program is formed.
“As of Sept. 30, we have granted around 1,400 business applications. Of those, around 700 hundred are growers, around 200 are processors, and around 500 are dispensaries.”
Not every dispensary that obtains a license can survive in a sustainable market, unless the ratio of patients to dispensaries changes.
The OMMA didn’t have any choice but to process thousands of applications for cultivators, processors and dispensaries. On top of that, thousands of patient and caregiver applications are waiting for approval. “The ballot measure that we passed here in Oklahoma, State Question 788, actually specified that we had to start processing applications within 60 days after the passage of the question, which was June 26. So we were bound by law to make that happen very quickly,” Miller explained.
Oklahoma is home to the second-largest Native American population in the United States, only surpassed by California. The tribes of Cherokee, Comanche, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee and many more tribal nations have preserved their ancient ancestry in the area. Even though Oklahoma legalized medical cannabis, it is still illegal on Native American reservations. Leaders of the Cherokee Nation, for instance, reminded its residents that medical cannabis is still against the law. In six other states, a federal statute called Public Law 280 allows tribal lands to enact their own laws, but Oklahoma did not opt into Public Law 280.
There are more opportunities for a medical cannabis market in Oklahoma than you might initially consider. Regulatory changes to the state’s medical cannabis program won’t be made again until the next legislative session in February 2019.