We just finished one of the deadline weeks at the Oklahoma State Capitol. This deadline required passing all bills to be heard this session out of the chamber of origin. Each chamber sent more than 300 bills to the other chamber and now the process will begin again.
With so many bills to consider, I would like to draw your attention to some of the topics that were heavily discussed and debated in the House.
Medical Marijuana Business Regulation
In 2018, Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788 which was an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in state statute(not a Constitutional change). We have all seen the aftermath of that decision with grow houses and dispensaries on every corner. This unregulated industry has flourished under a system of free enterprise. I don’t know about you, but I long to see what Oklahomans could do with other industries absent government regulation.
It is always the impulse of government to restrict and tax economic activity of any sort, but that impulse usually is counterproductive. The law of supply and demand has already been at work and the free market is working as it should. Demand is what drives the market and the demand cannot keep up with the abundant supply. The price of marijuana has dropped significantly over the last couple of years and this naturally reduces the number of businesses which supply this product. The free market is a wonderful concept when lawmakers will step back and trust it to work. But that was not the case this week. The Oklahoma Legislature did it’s best to regulate every aspect of the marijuana business. Here are just a few of the regulatory bills heard and passed this week.
HB2025– The Sign Bill; It will be necessary for all marijuana businesses to post a sign in a conspicuous location announcing their presence. This is said to help legitimate businesses avoid suspicion from local law enforcement. I have heard from constituents who are worried because they have been quietly growing their plants and now they worry the signs will attract thieves.
HB2179– increased application fee; When SQ788 was passed, the people voted to set the application fee at $2500. This bill will raise the fee on larger facilities. The author of this bill suggested this will do nothing to address the illegal marijuana business. It will simply increase the cost to do business legally and, in fact, increase the more affordable, uninhibited, illegal business.
HB3208– moratorium on licensing; Again, demand drives the market. If we continue to limit the supply side of the business through more regulation of the legal businesses, it does not change the demand. The demand is determined by the will of the people and is demonstrated by the willingness to pay for a product. They will naturally choose the least expensive product and with artificial limits on legal businesses, the illegal operations will offer greater supply at the price the people are willing to pay.
HB3971– OMMA Secret Shoppers; This method has been used for many years to catch businesses selling alcohol to minors. I have always disagreed with this practice. It should be illegal for law enforcement officers to lie to citizens. It is most certainly illegal for citizens to lie to law enforcement.
HB4287– packaging requirements; This bill requires growers to pre-package product before selling to dispensaries. The cost of this new requirement has many business owners worried. Once again, the added cost on the legal side of the business will hurt the good guy and help the bad guy(the illegal operations). Initially, this bill was voted down as a result of questions being asked by concerned legal business owners. But the legislators desperately want to do something to reduce illegal business and so it eventually passed the House.
The medical marijuana debacle leads me into the next topic that has been heavily discussed by Oklahoma representatives. The method by which our State Constitution can be changed with relatively little effort.
Initiative Petition and Referendum
Article 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution reserves the power to the people to propose laws and amendments to the State Constitution, as well as the ability reject laws. Rather than a representative republican system, it sets up a direct democracy where Constitutional changes are concerned. The Legislature cannot change the Constitution and the governor cannot veto a Constitutional change decided by the people.
An initiative petition is needed to add to Oklahoma Statute or to amend the Oklahoma Constitution. A referendum is needed to repeal or reject a law. Constitutionally, the total number of signatures needed to add a question to the ballot is based on the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. For a referendum, 5% of the signatures of voters; a statutory initiative requires 8%; a Constitutional initiative requires 15%.
While this appears to leave more authority in the hands of the people, we have seen that it allows only the most populated areas to have input. The rural communities are left without a voice. Seeing this flawed method in our state effectively demonstrates the need for the brilliant electoral college in determining presidential elections.
For example, in 2020 State Question 802 was an initiative that added an article to the Oklahoma Constitution. This was heavily lobbied by groups from outside Oklahoma and would reportedly bring needed help to rural hospitals. However, rural counties voted it down. Only heavily populated counties voted in support of this measure. It passed by 50.49% clearing the simple majority needed to change our Constitution.
Several solutions have been presented this session and we have narrowed them down to a couple of good ideas. (There is no perfect solution.)
HJR1002– This measure would require each county to meet the necessary number of signatures to create the state question and get it on the ballot. Currently, the requirement is a simple statewide percentage.
HJR1058– This measure would increase from 50% to 55% the number of votes to pass a Constitutional initiative.
A Bill Addressing Abortions in Oklahoma
HB4327 passed the House on Tuesday after two hours of questions and debate. If passed into law will be the most restrictive abortion law in the nation. The bill is patterned after the Texas Heartbeat bill which has reportedly cut abortions performed in Texas by 60%. This restriction has driven many of these women seeking abortions to Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma bill was drafted by the former Texas Solicitor General who drafted the Texas bill. It allows anyone who can prove harm as a result of the abortion to sue the abortion provider in civil court. This bill will be necessary even if Roe v Wade is overturned. Many states are following the example of Texas and presenting similar bills.
The Oklahoma House will now begin the process of hearing Senate bills in committee before bringing them to the floor for final approval or rejection. We are about halfway through the process this legislative session. If you have any questions or concerns about bills being heard, I want to hear from you. The perspective of constituents is always appreciated.