A new medical marijuana law recently took effect in Oklahoma, regulating product labeling and drug testing policies. But since cannabis remains illegal federally, banks are still unsure on how to safely serve the industry. On the latest Business Intelligence Report, Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses the state's new regulations, as well as how proposed legislation could protect banks.
Drew Hutchinson: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson, and as always, joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. So this week, I’d like to talk about a topic that the Business Intelligence Report has touched on a bit previously, and that’s medical marijuana. This industry is expanding rapidly in Oklahoma, but there are still some growing pains as the state tries to provide guidelines for the industry and navigate some complications at the federal level as well. According to a recent story by Journal Record reporter Steve Metzer, a few new pieces of legislation relating to medical cannabis have passed this year. Russell, would you like to tell the listeners a little about what some of these state laws are doing?
Russell Ray: Well, a big part of the law requires medical marijuana businesses to track every transaction electronically. This will be part of the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system. The system will essentially record the entire life cycle of a marijuana product. Also, we now have strict standards for the packaging, labeling and testing of marijuana products.
Hutchinson: Of course, Oklahoma State Question 788 passed last year, and that made legal the sale of medical marijuana. But now we’re seeing the Oklahoma Legislature start to give some more concrete guidelines for the industry. But even though marijuana use is legal in 36 states and Washington D.C., there’s not a lot of clarity at the federal level about how to navigate it.
Ray: Well that’s right. Because the use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law, this creates a lot of risk for banks, for real estate owners and landlords wanting to do business with the state’s growing cannabis industry.
Hutchinson: Right. As Steve Metzer wrote in his article, the federal classification of marijuana affects banks a lot. Banks are insecure about their legal standing in dealing with medical marijuana, so many aren’t providing services to dispensaries. That’s why so many of these businesses operate on a cash-only basis.
Ray: Well that’s right. The banking industry is hoping Congress will take some sort of action to remove the risk of providing basic banking services to medical marijuana businesses. The Journal Record recently hosted a panel discussion on this issue. And a few banks are taking the risk of providing these services, but the cost to businesses for these banking services can exceed $1,000 a month.
Hutchinson: But a measure to protect banks is on the table in Congress. According to your reporter’s story, there’s a bill in committee titled the “SAFE Banking Act.” Oklahoma Representative Kendra Horn is actually a sponsor on it. And with the legislation’s current language, if the act were to pass, federal entities would not be able to punish banks for providing services to cannabis-related businesses. But that could be a long way off. And in the meantime, there are still other state-level questions to resolve.
Ray: Well that’s right. The law the state Legislature approved earlier this year would exclude medical marijuana users from holding what’s described as “safety-sensitive” jobs. This is especially important to the oil and gas industry. The law has been challenged in court as the industry seeks clarity on the definition of what exactly constitutes a “safety-sensitive” job.
Hutchinson: Right, and the traditional urinalysis tests may not help employers discern whether their employees are incapacitated on these safety-sensitive jobs, because those tests only show if the individual has used cannabis in the recent past.
Ray: That’s right. A patient advocate with the Oklahoma Cannabis Liberty Alliance has suggested employers consider another kind of test. They suggested tests should gauge the employees alertness on the job, versus a test to reveal the use of marijuana days or weeks before.
Hutchinson: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. Thank you so much for your time today, Russell.
Ray: My pleasure, Drew. Thank you.
Hutchinson: KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.