A new law going into effect later this month will protect the rights of medical marijuana patients and establish regulations for the state’s fledgling medicinal cannabis industry. House Bill 2612, or the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act, as the measure is also known, will go into effect on Friday, August 30.
Oklahoma lawmakers passed House Bill 2612 earlier this year to establish regulations after the medicinal use of cannabis was legalized by voters with the passage of State Question 788 in June 2018. Seen as a compromise between lawmakers intent on regulating the industry and patient advocates who campaigned for the constitutional amendment initiative, the Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act has also been referred to as the Unity Bill.
The measure enacts regulations for medical marijuana providers including packaging and labeling requirements. The new law also protects patient access by prohibiting strict requirements such as a ban on smokable cannabis flower or limits on the amount of THC in medical marijuana products.
House Bill 2612 also has employment protections for medical marijuana patients, including a ban on firing an employee or refusing to hire an applicant based “solely on the basis of a positive test for marijuana components or metabolites.” Employers would also be prohibited from firing a current employee based solely on an individual’s status as a valid medical marijuana patient.
Employers would still be permitted to require employees or applicants to submit to drug screenings, but employees and applicants testing positive for cannabis use would not be subject to sanction if they have obtained a valid patient license to use medical marijuana.
There are exceptions to the employment protections in the Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act, including for “any job that includes tasks or duties that the employer reasonably believes could affect the safety and health of the employee performing the task or others.” Federal employers and contractors are also exempted from the law.
Chip Paul is a co-founder of Oklahomans for Health, the group responsible for putting State Question 788 on the ballot and campaigning for its passage. He told reporters that while he’s been approached to spearhead a campaign to legalize recreational cannabis in Oklahoma, he instead plans to work to ensure lawmakers stay true to the spirit of the constitutional amendment.
“Medical marijuana is here to stay in Oklahoma, absolutely and I think that we will work very hard to protect the footprint that we’ve built,” Paul said.
State Sen. Greg McCortney said he doesn’t believe there will be much demand for the legalization of recreational marijuana because qualifying for a permit to use cannabis medicinally is not difficult. More than 160,000 patients in the state have already received medical marijuana licenses, twice the number anticipated by state officials this soon after legalization.
“The people who would want to make it recreational, I’m guessing they’re already getting their marijuana and so going out and trying to get the signatures for a ballot initiative, it’s a lot of effort,” he said. “I would be surprised if they put forth that effort, but you never know what people might do.”
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