Oklahoma’s booming medical marijuana market is seen as the model industry by some and a warning on what other states should not do by others. There is no doubt that Oklahoma’s medical marijuana guidelines are lenient; the question is whether that leniency is helpful or hurtful. Like anything, there is no black or white answer; the hope is that oversight can strengthen the positives while the negatives are addressed.
Activists point to the opportunity that Oklahoma’s market offers. The application fee is $2,500; while this is a significant amount of money, it is much cheaper than most states (neighboring Arkansas’s are $100,000). Therefore, entrepreneurs can put more money into their operations and dispensaries. This is also easier because Oklahoma has lower operating, marijuana packaging, and real estate costs. The prices allow single-owned businesses to flourish; Cannabiz Media reported that most businesses are single businesses instead of corporations.
Easy access to medical cards has also contributed to a growing market. The process is easy, and the fee is $100. Patients with Medicare and Medicaid can also have a reduced price. 1 in 10 Oklahomans has a medical card. This allows for a large customer base and for patients to get the product they need. Often medical care processes can be arduous and expensive, turning people that need access to medical marijuana off. Oklahoma’s straightforward process allows those who need it to get medical cannabis.
Oklahoma’s medical law has another positive and distinctive trait; medical patients can consume cannabis anywhere that people can smoke tobacco. This allowance destigmatizes the use of cannabis and allows for patients to feel more accepted. It also may be a driving force behind Oklahomans getting behind an adult-use bill.
While many consumers and activists have seen the leniency in legislation as a positive, people have their concerns. Many worry that quality and safety is an issue; there is not much oversight over dispensaries, and there is a fear struggling companies could cut corners, and the state would be none the wiser. This could reflect poorly on companies operating up to par and throw the legitimacy of the market into question.
Another main concern is the lack of communication between Oklahoma’s government and those in the business. Communication with those who oversee it is necessary to drive business with any growing industry. As reported in a June 2021 Oklahoma Watch article, “delays in implementing Oklahoma’s ‘seed-to-sale’ tracking system for medical marijuana have sowed confusion for businesses in the fast-growing cannabis industry as law enforcement authorities step up their enforcement efforts for illicit marijuana products… there is broad agreement among cannabis businesses that seed-to-sale is needed to ensure legal products and enable quicker consumer recalls if there are health or safety problems with a particular product. But how the state chose its vendor and how much businesses should bear the costs of regulation has split many in the industry.” This lack of communication has hindered vital aspects of the cannabis sector.
As business invariably grows, so do worries that the market will become too saturated. Since it is so simple to get a license, dispensary owners fear people will flock to Oklahoma to start businesses and oversaturate the market. This has already driven prices down, and dispensaries may struggle to stay open with the competition. Oklahoma already has more dispensaries than food stores reportedly, so this worry has already come to a head.
While all pros and cons are valid, luckily, it does not have to be a win-lose situation. In 2021 Oklahoma passed around 350 new laws addressing these issues, but more work is to be done. Oklahoma can continue to offer single-owned businesses and patients landmark opportunities while improving communication and oversight. The state is expected to rake in $950 million by 2025 in revenue, and the state will undoubtedly be motivated to shore up policies that need strengthening. As long as the vast benefits the free market has offered continue to be at the forefront, activists are eager to see the booming market formed into a more cohesive industry.