On February 19, 2021, Carmen Forman for the Oklahoman reported some exciting news. The Oklahoma House had just approved extending the length of visitor medical marijuana cards. Licenses that are provided for non-residents, living outside of the state of Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma House passed the amendment with a large majority vote of 52-32, with House Bill 2022. The bill was sponsored by Republican House Representative Scott Fetgatter. And it was exciting to anyone who lived near Oklahoma. At least, those who did not know (or were unconcerned) about the current federal penalties.
House Bill 2022 extended the thirty-day ‘cannabis tourism’ visitor license to two years. What that means is that anyone who makes an appointment with an Oklahoma physician can be approved for a medical card. As long as the patient has one or more of the qualifying health conditions. Unlike other states (like Texas) the eligibility is expansive. More people can qualify.
The other change was to open up reciprocity to all fifty states in the Country. Whether your state has legalized cannabis or not, you can visit Oklahoma and get your card, and buy medical cannabis. In fact, last year Oklahoma legalized telemedicine. Completing your health evaluation can happen online, and at home.
The House Bill 2022 still must get the approval of the Oklahoma Senate. But the ‘free market’ priorities communicated by Oklahoma lawmakers means it will likely be approved. And it is not just cannabis consumers (patients) who will be celebrating.
The approval of House Bill 2022 was geared at increasing economic activity in the Sooner state. Now that anyone in the country can apply for a medical card online (via telemedicine), Oklahoma has differentiated itself. It is the only state to issue medical cards for non-residents from any state, for a duration of two years.
That means more people will be traveling to Oklahoma for medical marijuana. And that also means more demand for cultivation, processing, and products. Oklahoma is already dubbed “The Wild West of Weed” because of the number of business licenses regulators at OMMA have already issued.
The barriers to entry in Oklahoma are low. The license fee is only $2500 to start a cannabis business. And you have to be a resident or living in the state for two or more years. There are some regulatory courses and training required, but for the average entrepreneur, it’s easy and economical to get started. Providing you meet the basic criteria, and do not have a criminal record.
The extension for the medical card from thirty-days to two years makes it possible for out-of-state entrepreneurs to get started. One representative from the company (the owner) will have to reside in Oklahoma for the two-year required period. But the amendment helped make it easier.
Arkansas has experienced some ‘failure to launch’ when it comes to the state medical marijuana program. Recreational cannabis is illegal in the state. Patients and caregivers for minors can buy up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days. Patients who want to use medical cannabis face some tough restrictions but can appeal to the Arkansas Department of Health for special consideration.
Possession of less than four ounces in Arkansas carries a first offense misdemeanor charge. The penalty can include a fine of up to $2500 and one year in jail. And now, people living in Arkansas are not legally permitted to purchase cannabis in Oklahoma. There was a reciprocal agreement as Arkansas experienced difficulties retaining cultivators that could produce to the volume needed for medical cardholders.
The temporary measure and reciprocal agreement with Oklahoma has now been rescinded legally. Patients must now buy medical marijuana that was grown and processed in the state, or they are breaking the law.
Availability of different strains is a problem. Limitations to using only one designate dispensary is also a problem for patients in Arkansas. And so is the extraordinarily high cost of medical cannabis in the state. Oklahoma’s assortment and cost of cannabis is much better.
It was always a federal offense to drive to Oklahoma, purchase medical cannabis, and then drive back to Arkansas. The only relief was understanding that Arkansas authorities were unlikely to charge you with an offense, because of the reciprocal agreement. And neither would Oklahoma law enforcement for the same reasons.
How is Oklahoma allowing anyone to get a medical card and purchase cannabis? The onus is on the cardholder, in terms of legal responsibility. OMMA is not saying it is okay to cross state borders with medical marijuana. House Bill 2022 simply states that you don’t have to be a resident to get a medical card. And in terms of your liability for purchasing as a cardholder and driving home? Caveat emptor or “buyer beware”.
As a current resident of Texas, naturally, people reached out last week, after hearing the news. They wanted to confirm if they could get a medical card in Oklahoma as a non-resident. You could hear the excitement in their voices.
The people who messaged me have health conditions. They understand that Texas has a medical cannabis program. Unfortunately, the qualifying health conditions in Texas are so restricted, almost no one can get a card. With the exception of patients with severe epilepsy, or terminal illnesses.
I explained that they could, in fact, get a medical card in Oklahoma. They could qualify for one, based on their diagnoses. And they could apply online, complete the health evaluation, and be issued their non-resident card. It used to be for thirty-days only. A move to stimulate cannabis tourism in Oklahoma. Come stay, play and try the wide assortment of affordable quality cannabis products.
Then I hit them with the reality check. Texas is not a recreational state. Texas has a restricted medical cannabis program. And Texas has no reciprocal agreement with Oklahoma. Is one in the works? Unlikely. But that doesn’t mean that Texas won’t overhaul its medical marijuana program. In fact, nine bills of proposed legislation were filed in November 2020 that could radically change accessibility to medical cannabis for patients living in Texas.
Crossing from Oklahoma to Texas with cannabis? Felony or misdemeanor, depending on the amount you have in your possession. Moreover, if you are apprehended with manufactured types of cannabis, such as vape carts or concentrates (honey, shatter, etc.) it is a felony charge. Regardless of how much or how little you have with you.
Texas has a well-earned reputation for having the toughest law enforcement in the country. Except maybe Florida. The influx of Californians and pro-cannabis influence was demonstrated in the November 2020 election. Texas Republicans barely squeaked past Democratic votes to a victory. The voter turnout was 66% of the population. That was the highest voter turnout since 1992 in the state.
Crossing any state border with a controlled substance, is a felony offense. But Oklahoma is dangling a very large carrot over patients in Texas, desperate to qualify for and use medical cannabis. That could create big opportunities for Oklahoma in terms of cannabis license and sales tax revenue. And big regulatory and competitive problems for other jurisdictions.
May the odds ever be in the favor of patients with debilitating health conditions. The availability of two-year non-resident medical cards is about to shake things up. Whether law enforcement in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, and Texas are ready for it or not.
That is because the surrounding states have “issues” with their medical marijuana programs. Kansas has not yet legalized medical marijuana. They are talking about it in 2021, and likely to move forward. This means they will be launching their medical program after patients have stampeded to get a card in Oklahoma. That is going to be awkward. And threaten the launch and growth of the Kansas medical cannabis marketplace. It’s hard to compete with more than 2,200 cannabis businesses in Oklahoma in terms of selection and price.
And we can’t help but wonder if Texas doesn’t amend its medical cannabis program, how many people will be moving north to Oklahoma. Now that the lower cost of living is not the only advantage for people who have considered it. To buy, grow and work in the burgeoning cannabis market. But most importantly, to access medical marijuana for conditions like anxiety. And to safely buy and smoke cannabis for symptom management.
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