The senior senator from Oklahoma is seeking millions of dollars in federal funds to thwart illicit marijuana growing operations in the state.
Sen. James Inhofe, a Republican, is reportedly “asking for $4 million in federal funds to help [Oklahoma] drug agents fight these operations, operations sometimes bringing more with them than just black-market activity,” according to local television station KFOR.
Inhofe’s intention was announced by his chief of staff, Luke Holland, at an Oklahoma Sheriffs Association meeting on Wednesday.
The illicit operations have frustrated the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. According to KFOR, the bureau’s director, Donnie Anderson, has raised concerns about “international drug organizations and cartels moving into Oklahoma to take advantage of medical marijuana laws.”
As Anderson and other state officials see it, those organizations and cartels are procuring a legitimate medical cannabis license that they use to cultivate, and then are selling the product to surrounding states where pot prohibition is still in place.
“They are bringing with them a list of terribles…criminal activities that have absolutely nothing to do with drugs,” said Holland, as quoted by KFOR. “Also, human trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking.”
Anderson said that the bureau has carried out “very in-depth investigations” into the non-compliant operations.
“They are typical conspiracy investigations of one to two years. We’ve been fortunate this last year to have been doing the operations against them we have. But like I’ve said, on the face value they have their license and they are operating. So, you have to prove this is black market marijuana,” Anderson said, according to KFOR.
The Associated Press reported that Inhofe, a U.S. Senator since 2003 and prior to that a member of the House of Representatives for seven years, “requested a direct appropriation through the U.S. Justice Department.”
Cannabis is Big Business in Oklahoma
Oklahoma voters passed a ballot proposal in 2018 that legalized medical marijuana in the state. Three years later, the program is widely seen as an overwhelming success. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, the state boasts “over 380,000 active patient licenses, and more than 10,000 registered medical cannabis businesses,” which makes the state one of the biggest programs in the United States.
“Despite the pandemic, the medical cannabis market has been booming, and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority reports that the state collected over $127 million in state and local taxes from medical cannabis in 2020,” according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
As MPP also noted, the program’s implementation has also been impressive. Whereas other states sometimes take years to get medical cannabis programs off the ground, Oklahoma’s department of health “began accepting applications from patients, caregivers, and prospective medical cannabis businesses,” according to MPP.
But the program has not been without scrutiny, particularly from the state’s bureau of narcotics.
Last summer, the state launched an investigation that looked into whether a cannabis testing lab had produced false product test results.
The Tulsa World reported last August that the investigation was being conducted by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority in conjunction with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. The probe dealt with an Oklahoma City-based lab called F.A.S.T. Laboratories.
Two months later, F.A.S.T. Laboratories ultimately avoided paying any fines after it “surrendered its license during an investigation by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority,” according to the Tulsa World.
The program has also drawn wariness from Oklahoma lawmakers, who last year “passed legislation last week to require the Department of Public Safety use $300,000 to pay for a medical marijuana pilot program to test out marijuana breathalyzers,” according to the Oklahoman, which would make the Sooner State one of the first in the country to implement such a technology.