After the governor of Oklahoma vetoed a wide-ranging medical marijuana expansion bill on Thursday, advocates mounted a last-minute push to get lawmakers in both chambers to override the action on their last day in session Friday. But by the afternoon, the legislature adjourned for the session without taking up the proposal again.
Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) took advocates by surprise when he rejected HB 3228, which had cleared the legislature with impressively strong bipartisan support sufficient to override a veto. Among other things, the bill would have allowed out-of-state residents to obtain temporary medical cannabis licenses, permitted deliveries to patients and revised a statute to make it so any first-time marijuana possession conviction would be punishable by a fine and no jail time.
House leadership reportedly lobbied the Senate to agree to take up an override vote, as they knew it would pass in their chamber but didn’t want to waste time if senators weren’t willing to act. But around noon on Friday, Senate leadership indicated that they would not be challenging the veto after all.
Shortly thereafter, both chambers completed their agendas for the day and voted to adjourn sine die, leaving the veto intact. The motion to end the session technically takes effect next Friday, May 29, so it is possible that lawmakers could take up additional legislation, including the cannabis bill, before they are finally done for the year.
The Oklahoma House of Representatives has adjourned the Second Regular Session for Fifty-Seventh Legislature Sine Die.
— OK House of Reps (@OKHouseofReps) May 22, 2020
Advocates held out hope until the last minute about the possibility of the Senate reversing course and voting on an override. Given the significant margin of passage in both chambers, they felt an override would have been achievable if they choose to hold a vote.
“It is Senate leadership’s prerogative,” Norma Sapp, executive director of Oklahoma NORML, said in a video update prior to adjournment. “The only thing I can say is possibly make more phone calls to your senators. Otherwise we’re out here praying that something changes.”
In a veto message, Stitt wrote that “HB 3228 is a lengthy bill that alters Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program” and the “language in the bill makes substantial policy changes to the medical marijuana program that were not fully scrutinized through normal legislative procedures before the bill was received by my office in the middle of the night Saturday.”
“While there is much room for improvement in the way our state’s program operates, this bill does not address those items in a way I can support,” he said.
While the governor declined to specify which provisions he opposes, here are the main changes the bill would have accomplished:
Out-of-state individuals would have been able to apply for temporary, 90-day medical cannabis patient licenses—even if they’re weren’t a registered patient in their home state. Those licenses would have been renewable.
The bill also proposed to remove a provision that requires people who aren’t registered cannabis patients to state a valid medical condition if caught possessing marijuana in order to receive a reduced misdemeanor penalty.
Under the policy change, any person—regardless of whether they have a medical condition—would have faced a misdemeanor punishable by up to $400 and no jail time for first-time possession without a medical cannabis card.
Another provision celebrated by reform advocates would have made it so that medical marijuana patient and caregiver records couldn’t be “shared with any other state agency or political subdivision without a warrant issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.”
The bill also proposed several other changes such as allowing patients to pay a late fee to get their registration renewed if they missed the deadline by more than 30 days but fewer than 90 days.
For the delivery section, the legislation states that licensed dispensaries could transport cannabis products to patients’ private residences as long as they were located within a 10-mile radius. If there weren’t any dispensaries in that range, a dispensary more than 10 miles away could have still delivered products if they were based in the same country as the residence.
It’s not clear which of these proposals the governor opposed to the extent that he chose to veto it. He signed a bill establishing a regulatory framework for Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program last year after voters approved a legalization ballot measure in 2018.
Oklahoma activists filed a proposed ballot measure to legalize cannabis for adult use in December. Last month, a campaign staffer said they’re awaiting state Supreme Court approval to gather signatures but tempered expectations that it would be feasible to collect enough in the allotted timeframe due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A state lawmaker also said he would be introducing a bill to legalize recreational marijuana and argued it would “potentially be a revenue funder” to fill coffers diminished by the health crisis.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, the governor signed a bill on Thursday officially making the state the 27th in the U.S. to decriminalize cannabis possession.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.