Once known for having the nation’s strictest marijuana laws, Oklahoma is now the fastest growing medical-cannabis state since it was legalized there in 2018.
Oklahoma’s bid for legal recreational marijuana might not be necessary thanks to its expansive medical program. The most lenient in the country (the state has nearly 10,000 cannabis licenses), Oklahoma’s marijuana regulations could be the future of medical-cannabis programs in the U.S.
The Basics of Medical Marijuana
Because marijuana remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level, meaning it’s considered as lacking any medical benefits, the U.S. government does not provide any guidelines or regulations for the creation of state medical-marijuana programs. Regardless, many states have independently generated similar programs, though Oklahoma’s differs quite a bit from other state.
Medical marijuana is not available to everyone. Even in states with recreational-marijuana programs that allow adults over 21 legal access to cannabis products, medical marijuana is a separate system to which only a select few have access. Almost all states have a list of health conditions that qualify an individual for the program. Though the lists vary, all contain serious and essentially unmanageable diseases and disorders, or health problems that have been shown to be effectively treated with cannabis. Some examples of qualifying conditions are:
● Cancer: Medical marijuana is used to help mitigate pain, nausea and discomfort due to chemotherapy or as part of end-of-life care.
● HIV/AIDS: Sufferers endure similar symptoms to cancer patients, including nausea, difficulty gaining weight and pain, all of which are treatable with cannabis.
● Glaucoma: Marijuana has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure, which is caused by glaucoma.
● Epilepsy and Other Seizure Disorders: Certain compounds within cannabis have been shown to help reduce seizure frequency and intensity.
● Chronic pain. Because there are few treatment options for chronic pain, medical marijuana is often prescribed to sufferers.
Those with a qualifying condition need to procure a recommendation for medical marijuana from a licensed physician, which is different from a prescription because of cannabis’ federal status. With a doctor’s recommendation in hand, adults and supervised minors can apply for medical-marijuana cards. This grants them access to specially licensed dispensaries.
Medical-marijuana dispensaries tend to be different from recreational dispensaries, operating much more like pharmacies in how they manage product and patients. Often, medical dispensaries will treat one patient at a time, giving one-on-one care to ensure patients leave with products expertly chosen to help manage personal circumstances.
How Oklahoma Differs: No Qualifying Conditions
There are some ways in which Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program functions identically to other states, but there’s one significant difference that Oklahomans should be aware of: the lack of qualifying conditions. Instead of requiring applicants to suffer from one of only a handful of health issues, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority has only two requirements of applicants:
● That they are 18 years or older;
● That they have a board-certified physician’s signature.
Thus, any adult suffering from any condition can use medical marijuana as a treatment in Oklahoma. What’s more, there are rules in place for minors to use medical marijuana as well, given they have two physician signatures and a signature from a parent or guardian. This remarkable lack of restriction allows so many more people to benefit from marijuana treatments.
Oklahoma’s Room to Grow
Detractors of Oklahoma’s marijuana program believe that it opens the door for abuse, encouraging adults who lack viable cause to use medical marijuana for recreational purposes. Just across the northwestern border with Colorado, Oklahomans have easy access to recreational dispensaries should they need them. However, it's illegal to return to Oklahoma with marijuana purchased in Colorado.
Fortunately, Oklahoma’s medical-marijuana program is growing at a rapid pace and there's plenty of opportunity for enterprising marijuana entrepreneurs looking for an available market. State regulators continue to offer more licenses for medical dispensaries and if Oklahoma does pass recreational regulations in the coming years, those already established in the state will have even more opportunities for success.