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Friday, December 13, 2019

Bill calls for changes to medical marijuana law

Bill calls for changes to medical marijuana law

Legislation that would alter language regarding employment protections for medical marijuana license holders and prohibit dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of a place of worship is scheduled to be heard on the first day of the 2020 legislative session.
State Rep. Jim Olsen, R-Roland, has filed House Bill 2779, which is scheduled for a reading when the Oklahoma Legislature goes into session on Feb. 3, 2020.
The measure would delete current language stating that employers many not take action against the holder of a medical marijuana license solely based on the employee’s status as a license holder or the results of a drug test showing positive for marijuana.
Instead, the bill would add language addressing “the results of a drug test showing positive for marijuana or its components” to the part of the statute wherein employers are barred from hiring or firing a medical marijuana license holder “unless a failure to do so would cause an employer the potential to lose a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law or regulations.”
The bill would also prohibit the location of any retail marijuana establishment within 1,000 feet of any “place of worship” – a term defined to include even buildings that are rented or borrowed on a temporary basis for worship services, activities and business of a congregation. Marijuana dispensaries established prior to Nov. 1, 2020 would be excluded from the setback requirement.
Current law requires dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet away from private or public schools.
“Setback for schools is 1,000 feet,” said Olsen. “It is common in other states to have setback requirements like this for churches and schools.” Responding by email, Olsen said he was traveling on Thursday and was unable to answer further questions about the bill’s provisions by press time.
HB 2779’s language relating to employee protections is likely part of an ongoing effort to clarify employer and employee protections under the new medical marijuana law, said Bud Scott, executive director of the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association. It’s the setback requirement that’s going to be a problem.
“There are efforts to address the safety-sensitive jobs issue and employment protections,” said Scott.
The issue is of importance to the business community, the cannabis community and the patient community, he said.
“It’s a more in-depth legal issue, because by the text of State Question 788 it actually created a protected class of individuals, which has some pretty serious legal ramifications.”
Acknowledging that Oklahoma is an at-will employer state, representatives of the cannabis industry just want to make sure that medical marijuana users are treated commensurate with patients under any other kind of medication, said Scott.
The changes appear to be cleaning up the language for clarity, said Crowe & Dunlevy attorney Adam W. Childers, co-chair of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group.
“It may be to make it more clear that there is at least an escape clause for those employers who would face the loss of a monetary or licensing-related benefit under federal law,” said Childers. “It may have been that by standing alone there below you didn’t enjoy that same exception being carved out, but substantively I’m not sure that it changes the actual rights of the employee.”
The language of the current law grants medical marijuana license holders the kind of protections usually reserved for gender, race, religion or disability, he said.
“This is a big one employers are going to be interested in, but right now I’m not sure that it changes too much,” said Childers.
The industry will challenge the setback provision, said Scott.
“We’ve got big problems with that,” said Scott. “I’ve worked with the liquor industry for years and having the 300-foot setback from churches has often become weaponized where we’ve seen churches go into commercial districts and basically prevent any new bar-restaurant from opening up in that commercial district.”
Keeping bars away from schoolchildren makes sense, considering the danger posed by a potential drunk driver, said Scott. But he said there does not appear to be a justification for keeping dispensaries 1,000 feet away from churches.
“We’re talking about a place where someone goes inside and buys medicine,” said Scott. “They’re not imbibing alcohol, they’re not engaging in dangerous activity on-site, so where is the potential harm?
“And ultimately we’re talking about the fastest-growing industry in the state of Oklahoma,” said Scott. “And in a state where, I hate to be negative, but where people aren’t necessarily banging down the door to come in here and do business. Here we have a tremendous opportunity that is being seen across the state in every community, so I’m not sure I understand the kind of anti-business approach of being restrictive when there’s really no public policy justification behind it.”
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