Oklahomans overwhelmingly approved a measure last summer to legalize medical marijuana. Now the treatment is in overwhelming demand.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) said this week that, as of Monday, it has approved 146,381 licenses for patients to receive medicinal cannabis, along with 958 licenses granted to caregivers. In addition, the agency has approved 3,397 licenses for growers, 1,605 licenses for dispensaries and 905 licenses for processors.
To put those numbers in a slightly different perspective: OMMA has enrolled more than 3.5% of the state’s entire population as patients. According to the Tulsa World, the state’s participation rate places it near the top among the 33 states in the country that have legalized medical cannabis.
It’s also significantly higher than what state officials anticipated for the first year of the program. After the ballot measure was passed last June, the World reported, officials expected that roughly 80,000 patients would be registered in the opening year.
Karen O’Keefe, the director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told the newspaper that she believes Oklahoma “has among the best medical marijuana programs in the country in terms of patients having relief quickly without a bunch of hurdles they and their physicians have to jump through.”
“I think it helped there was a noncompetitive application process,” O’Keefe said. “You don’t have the government deciding how many pharmacies can operate. For the most part, we let the free market decide.”
Oklahoma voters greenlit the program a year ago when they approved State Question 788 by a 57%-43% margin. But significant disagreements in the legislature followed, and threatened the breadth of the state’s medical cannabis program. Weeks after the vote, the Oklahoma Board of Health approved rules that would have forbade the sale of smokable marijuana products at dispensaries, and would have also required a licensed pharmacist to be present at the dispensaries.
Proponents of State Question 788 protested, arguing that voters supported the measure with the understanding that smokable pot would be available for prescription. Jason Lowe, a Democrat in the Oklahoma state house, said that the Department of Health had “enacted law that undermines one of the most participated in elections in state history and silences the voice of Oklahomans across this state.”
The criticism and specter of lawsuits may have been what prompted Mary Fallin, then the state’s Republican governor, to ultimately sign a revised set of rules that did not ban smokable products or require an on-site pharmacist.
The law allows Oklahomans aged 18 and older to apply for a license with Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority after receiving a note from their doctor; upon approval, patients must pay about $100 for the license.