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Oklahoma Puts Moratorium On Issuing New Medical Cannabis Licenses

State officials in Oklahoma have put a moratorium on issuing new licenses for medical marijuana businesses in a bid to allow the state’s cannabis regulators to catch up with oversight of a burgeoning medicinal cannabis industry. Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority has imposed a moratorium on issuing new medical marijuana licenses. The law was adopted earlier in the year by Oklahoma state legislators.

Oklahoman voters approved State Question 788, which was approved by the ballot in 2018. This 2018 measure created the most tightly controlled legal marijuana market. Corbin Wyatt, owner of Likewise Dispensary, said that the state’s medical marijuana law included few barriers to entry for entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in cannabis.

“It was easy,” Wyatt told local media. “You pay $2,500 and you can open your business pretty much anywhere.”

Oklahoma legislators passed House Bill 3208 in May. This puts an immediate halt to the issuing of new medical marijuana licenses. The measure’s new restrictions were initially scheduled to take effect on August 1. However, bills that are passed must be in force within 90 days of their passage or they will not receive a majority vote by the legislature. Acting on state law, the Governor Kevin Stitt signed it on May 26.

OMMA will review applications submitted for new cannabis business ventures before the moratorium takes effect. However, applications received or denied after this deadline won’t be processed by the OMMA until 2024.

Mark Woodward (public information officer, Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics) stated that the state has more than 2,200 dispensaries. This makes it difficult for state regulators to oversee the operations.

“That’s a tremendous amount of dispensaries,” Woodward told a Tulsa television news crew. “It’s more than California, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, Nevada and New Mexico combined.”

Non-licensed businesses operate outside the law

Woodward claimed that many illegally produced cannabis was being sold out of Oklahoma by businesses currently operating in the state. He added that some of the state’s 8,500 medical weed cultivators have ties to organized crime organizations from the United States, Mexico, and China that have moved into the state, many during the COVID-19 pandemic, to take advantage of Oklahoma’s inexpensive licensing fees and relatively lax cannabis regulations.

“We’ve talked to our law enforcement partners from New York to Florida, and they say we are the number one supplier of black market marijuana on the East Coast,” he said.

Woodward said that some of the state’s licensed medical dispensaries are selling cannabis that has been produced by illicit growers and processors. He added that the pause in new businesses will give regulators and the OBN an opportunity to regulate the state’s medical marijuana supply chain more closely.

“This moratorium will allow us to focus on those we already have in place and make sure they’re either following the law or going after those bad actors,” he explained.

Matt Boyd, the owner of the Green Cross Meds cannabis dispensary in Tulsa, said that the state’s saturated market has caused profits from his business to drop by two-thirds.

“In the last year, I’m not the only dispensary owner that has felt a decline in business, and it’s not because of anything we’ve done different,” he explained. “It’s just because there’s been so many dispensaries that have opened up. Just the limit of ‘no more new dispensaries’ coming into business is gonna help all of us existing dispensary owners now.”

Boyd indicated that the new two-year moratorium for retailers licensing will reduce the negative impact on the current retailers.

“It’s time to allow a market that’s brand new, a brand-new grassroots industry in our state, to kinda have some balance, y’know?” Boyd said. “And that’s just what it’s gonna take.”

Oklahoma lawmakers recently passed a total of 12 bills to tighten regulations on the state’s medical cannabis industry, including a requirement that new dispensaries and cultivation operations be located at least 1,000 ft. from schools. This moratorium will be in effect from August 1st, 2024. It will also last until the state’s medical marijuana authority has cleared up its backlog. However, some business owners think that it may never happen.

“Until the OMMA either feels that they are able to control everything and it’s an opportune time to issue new licenses, but most people are saying that won’t ever come,” Wyatt said.