What We’ve Learned From Oklahoma’s MMJ Program in the Past Year

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Medical marijuana dispensaries have been growing, well, like weeds in Oklahoma since voters approved it in June, and a number of businesses have popped up in Northeast Oklahoma this winter.

“Every day is pretty busy, and it’s a constant flow,” said Brian Hallum, owner of Higher Health, a 1,200-square-foot dispensary that opened in Ottawa County on Nov. 30. Hallum said his Afton store is doing well.

“For the first month, I thought we would be lucky to sell 2 pounds, but what ended up happening was we sold 14 pounds. It was great because I got a letter from the state that they made nearly a million dollars in sales in December, and I did one-tenth of that.”

Since November, more dispensaries have opened in the region, including at least 100 so far in the Tulsa area, and what has happened in Oklahoma could offer a glimpse of what could be coming to Missouri.

The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, which governs the medical marijuana program in the state and is responsible for licensing, began accepting license applications in late August. The authority said that nearly 52,000 patient, 348 caregiver, and more than 3,300 business applications had been received as of Feb. 4. A total of 41,716 licenses have already been approved.

S.F. Mae, of Miami, was one of those approved. She was purchasing cannabis flower at the Afton dispensary last week to help combat back pain. Years ago, she said she crushed five 

lumbar vertebrae in her spine and was having to take pain medicine to get through the day. Mae said medical marijuana has worked well and she visits the dispensary about every two weeks.

“I’ve completely weaned off the pain pills, and this is my pain medicine,” Mae said, holding up the plant. “I also have trouble sleeping and with anxiety. I took medication for that, too, but I don’t take that anymore. It has been life-changing. I was so happy it passed because I’m a law-abiding citizen but I needed help. And I didn’t want it from oxycodone or Tylenol 3. I’m real happy.”

Quicker start

Unlike other states, medical marijuana patients do not need a qualifying condition for Oklahoma cannabis. In order to receive a license, patients must be over the age of 18, have valid proof of identity and residence, as well as a form recommended by an Oklahoma board-certified physician.

Residents under 18 must have their application signed by a parent or legal guardian and two state-licensed physicians. Medical marijuana products must also be picked up by the parent or legal guardian. Cards can cost anywhere from $20 to $100 and will be processed within two weeks.

Oklahoma got out the gate quicker than other states. Voters in neighboring Arkansas, as well as North Dakota and Ohio, have also approved medical marijuana, but those states saw the effort slowed by legal wrangling and legislative initiatives that followed the vote.

Although the citizen-led ballot question in Oklahoma imposed quick deadlines and required regulators to grant a license to every qualified applicant, there were some stumbles. The Oklahoma State Board of Health tried to put in place some restrictions, such as banning smokeable pot and requiring a pharmacist at every dispensary, but the public pushed back. Every segment of the pro-marijuana movement mobilized and even the state’s Republican attorney general weighed in with a legal opinion that the board had gone too far.

“I think every Oklahoman who has a soul was appalled that they tried to change a political decision that the people of Oklahoma had just made,” said Chip Paul, who helped write and push for State Question 788. “The third rail of politics would be to mess with SQ 788.”

Missouri, too, is following other states that have legalized medical marijuana, becoming the 31st state to do so in November after residents passed Amendment 2 with 65 percent of the vote.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is still writing state regulations. The state can begin accepting licenses this summer, and must award them by the end of the year, which means the earliest medical marijuana could be available in the state will be 2020.

The Missouri measure included a 4 percent sales tax to go to a newly created fund for health care services for veterans. The measure allows medical marijuana for patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, HIV, epilepsy and other conditions.

Missouri legislative researchers have estimated that more than $100 million worth of medical marijuana could be sold annually, which means the state’s medical marijuana program may soon be on the same route as Oklahoma’s.

Higher Health

Higher Health in Afton features a variety of products, including different strains of cannabis flowers, edibles, vape cartridges, capsules, CBD — cannabidiol — and more. Each item is marked with labels showing the contents of the package and the dosage.

Hallum said Higher Health made thousands of dollars in sales during their first month in operation and averaged about 80 patients per day. The Oklahoma Tax Commission reported that the state’s medical marijuana sales reached nearly $1 million in December, generating about $70,000 for state coffers from the 7 percent sales tax on pot sales.

Hallum plans to expand his operation in the coming months, purchasing a vacant building next door and said he’ll use the space to create time-release weed capsules and cannabis-infused baked goods. Under state statute, patients can purchase up to 3 ounces of cannabis, 1 ounce of concentrates and 72 ounces of edibles at a time per visit.

He also said the top three reasons people visit the dispensary are insomnia, pain, and anxiety. Because the Oklahoma measure does not contain a list of qualifying medical conditions for people to get medicinal marijuana, Hallum said he was expecting to see more clients who wanted to purchase the products to use it recreationally when he first opened. However, he said his customer base is made up of those who are suffering from various medical conditions.

“People that come in here are coming specifically for ailments,” Hallum said. “Some of them have never used cannabis before, but they’re coming back because they say they haven’t felt this good in years. I see positive benefits all the time.”