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Local officials discuss impact of medical marijuana legalization

Sequoyah County District 3 Commissioner Jim Rogers

presenting at the state capital on Tuesday.

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 - Since voters legalized medical marijuana in 2018, Oklahoma has become THE place for those who want to legally grow. But officials across the state, in multiple areas of government and law enforcement, are now concerned that what could have been a boon to the Sooner State economy is becoming a problem due to relaxed state laws and unscrupulous business practices. There is also growing concern among those in rural Oklahoma as out-of-state groups purchase more and more rural farm land.

District 3 County Commissioner Jim Rogers and Sequoyah County Sheriff Larry Lane were presenters at the Oklahoma State Capital Tuesday for an interim study on marijuana grow operations and illegal land ownership in Oklahoma related to marijuana growers.

Sequoyah County Sheriff Larry Lane discussing

marijuana related concerns for Sequoyah County.

Rogers and Lane said at least 10 state representatives attended Tuesday's meeting, which was hosted by Oklahoma House Rep. Anthony Moore (R-Clinton) and chaired by Rep. Bob Culver (R-Tahlequah). Also in attendance were Adria Berry, the new director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, as well as representatives from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Attorney General's office, district attorneys from across the state, state real estate commissioners, state water board representatives and more.

Rogers' presentation, titled “How Rural Oklahoma Has Been Targeted,” focused on how the Sooner State's relaxed laws regarding the licensing of medical marijuana grow facilities have made it easier for unscrupulous business owners to move into the state and make millions.

Rogers said his biggest concern is the large number of marijuana grow facilities in Sequoyah County. Statistics show there are currently 152 legal grow sites in Sequoyah County, which works out to 1 grow facility per 258 county residents. In contrast, Tulsa County has 292 grow sites, or 1 grow facility per 2,292 residents. That doesn't even take into consideration the facilities that are not legally licensed in the county, Rogers pointed out.

“We're not against free enterprise,” Rogers said, making it clear that he has nothing against those engaging in the lawful business of growing and selling medical marijuana in Sequoyah County. “But there has to be restrictions. It can't just be a free-for-all. It's like the wild, wild West."

Oklahoma now has the most medical marijuana patients per capita in the United States, statistics reveal, with seven times more growers as Colorado and twice as many dispensaries. There are 15 medical marijuana dispensaries in Sallisaw alone. The City of Sallisaw has issued a moratorium on new dispensaries within city limits. Cities and counties in Oklahoma aren't allowed to outlaw dispensaries or grow operations.

Another problem is that a lot of the marijuana grown in Oklahoma is sold to distributors and buyers out of state, including crews from Bulgaria, Russia, China and elsewhere, Rogers and Lane noted.

Oklahoma's eased tax laws give out-of-state entrepreneurs incentive to move to the state, force employees to live here in squalid conditions and divert their product out of state for huge profits. The fee to open a facility in the Sooner State is $7,500, which makes it possible for nearly anyone with a little cash to open a grow site or dispensary.

Illegal growers are rapidly moving into rural areas, Rogers said, and buying up property at sky-high cash prices. Often, buyers or brokers will approach a property owner several times with ever-increasing cash offers until their offer is accepted, Rogers said.

Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, said the state is “not equipped in the slightest” to investigate this situation. States like Colorado aren't seeing that problem, because there, despite legalization, marijuana is still barred from being sold recreationally in many local jurisdictions.

According to the Marijuana Policy Project, nearly 376,000 Oklahomans, roughly 10 percent of the state's population, have medical marijuana cards. That is, by far, the highest share in the country. Even at the height of Colorado's medical marijuana boom in 2011, the state topped out at 128,698 patients, one-third of Oklahoma's total, or 2.5 percent of the state population.

Sheriff Larry Lane discussed the increase in drug use among students. He said the Sequoyah County Sheriff's Office was asked to deploy its five-member K-9 unit to Stigler Public Schools on Tuesday to conduct drug sweeps. Lane said the dogs alerted on several lockers at the schools. After the alerts, deputies inform the teachers which lockers were identified and school personnel perform the actual locker searches, Lane said.

Both Rogers and Lane agreed that the meeting was productive and brought them a sense of hope for the future.

Laura Brown, KXMX Staff Writer

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