Oklahoma Health Department Sued Over Medical Marijuana Restrictions

An advocacy group is suing Oklahoma’s Health Department over rigid medical marijuana restrictions.
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Two separate lawsuits have been filed in response to restrictions tacked onto Oklahoma’s new medical marijuana law by government regulators. Voters passed State Question 788 (SQ 788) by a margin of 57-43 percent in a June 6 election. SQ 788 legalized the medicinal use of cannabis and created a framework for a regulated supply chain.

Earlier this week, the State Department of Health released proposed rules to govern the program. But then the Oklahoma State Board of Health voted to add restrictions to the rules, including a provision banning the sale of smokable forms of cannabis at dispensaries. Another requires medical marijuana dispensaries to have a pharmacist onsite.

Activists Fight Back

One of the lawsuits has been filed in Oklahoma County by Green the Vote. The advocacy group is suing the state, Gov. Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma State Health Department, and five members of the board. In a release, the group said the board’s actions do not comply with SQ 788.

“The lawsuit filed today is our endeavor to undo the wrongful acts of the Oklahoma Department of Health in adopting amendments to the regulations implementing State Initiative 788. It is our hope that this lawsuit will quickly resolve the improper regulations and allow Oklahoma citizens to exercise their rights to manage their own health care,” they said, according to local media.

The suit states that the board members met behind closed doors before their public meeting to discuss potential amendments to the proposed rules. The legal action alleges that the meeting was in violation of legislation requiring transparency in government.

“Their informal gatherings prior to the regular meeting constitute a meeting subject to the Open Meetings Act given that their discussions were about actions to be taken by the Board during the July 10, 2018 full meeting,” the lawsuit claims.

Patients and Providers Also Sue

A group of eight potential medical marijuana patients and caregivers also filed suit, in Cleveland County. Their suit claims the Board of Health exceeded its authority and that the regulations are “arbitrary and capricious.”

“The reality here is that this failure of leadership will now cost our state more than the limited special session needed to put patients before profit,” Green said.

Will Lawsuits Delay Access?

Shawn Jenkins of the Yes on 788 political action committee said that he fears litigation could delay the initiative’s implementation.

“We’re obviously very concerned with anything that would compromise the rollout of 788 and getting patients what they need,” Jenkins said.

“We don’t want to see people suffer that shouldn’t be suffering, especially at the hands of political organizations and trade groups,” he added.

More Initiatives to Come?

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuits over SQ 788, Oklahoma voters may have more decisions to make about cannabis. Green the Vote is currently circulating petitions for two more initiatives to codify medical marijuana and the use of cannabis for adults in the state’s constitution.

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