OKLAHOMA CITY — More than a hundred medical marijuana advocates gathered Thursday at the state Capitol to protest proposed legislation that seeks to add increased regulations on the industry.

In all, advocates said more than 30 bills filed in the Legislature would impact the fledgling industry or drastically change existing laws.

Most of “the troubled bills” originated in the Senate, said Chris Moe, a citizen lobbyist with Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance.

“I can tell you that what they’re setting up is a pay-for-play system,” he said. “Nothing about this says medicine. Everything about this says if you have the dollars to put forward, you can use cannabis in Oklahoma. If you don’t, you’re still subject to criminal charges.”

He hoped Thursday’s showing would demonstrate to senators that medical marijuana advocates are watching and legislative decisions aren’t going unnoticed.

Voters approved State Question 788 — a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana — in June 2018. That measure allowed the industry to launch without legislative action. But lawmakers and other experts raised concerns that the citizen-crafted ballot measure created unintended loopholes.

Last year, lawmakers approved a comprehensive medical marijuana framework that created a series of permanent laws governing the industry.

Still, Moe said legislative measures “continue to attack 788.”

“To generalize, it’s just the old guard,” Moe said. “It’s too many that still were taught and raised in the ‘Reefer Madness’ era. They don’t believe that there’s any medical value to cannabis and nothing that we say or do is going to show them that. Unfortunately, some of what has happened since the program has rolled out has given us a bad name on ourselves, and that’s our own fault, so it reinforces what they already think about us.”

State Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Clare­more, said he supports true medical marijuana designed to address specific health needs.

“Everything that we’re seeing now, it doesn’t take a whole lot to get a prescription for marijuana,” he said.

He’s proposed three medical marijuana legislative measures.

One measure gives cities and counties the ability to establish zoning restrictions and prevent the opening of retail marijuana establishments. The second measure increases the licensing fees for dispensaries from $2,500 to $10,000. The last requires business owners to possess general liability insurance.

Quinn said city and counties typically have the power to decide how businesses are structured and allowed to operate. But some municipal leaders have approached him saying their hands are tied when it comes to regulating medical marijuana businesses in their communities.

“I don’t think this ought to be any different,” he said.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she sees an irony in the proposed zoning regulation change.

“Mostly what we see is restricting that (local) power and pre-empting the things that cities want to do,” she said. “So, I don’t know why the majority has singled out this area to expand a city’s power, but we would have concerns on restricting or expanding a city’s power on something like this that again the voters approved.”

Virgin said her caucus wants to protect the will of voters and would not support anything that would hinder access to people with medical cards.

“We certainly recognize that the business community has concerns and that those need to be taken into account, but ultimately the people of Oklahoma have spoken and we need to respect that,” she said.

But Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said one shortcoming of state questions is that they don’t always envision funding mechanisms or consequences when they go through the legislative process.

He said lawmakers already have implemented changes to the medical marijuana state question.

“Everything we have done here before and what we’ll continue to do is make sure the will of the people is carried out,” Treat said.

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Stecklein is CNHI Oklahoma Capitol Bureau Chief for CNHI News Service publication newspapers. She can be reached at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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