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New marijuana authority director describes agency's 'hard reset,' including more inspections

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After her first 30 days on the job, the new head of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority said the agency is in the middle of building its staff to ensure compliance and help the state uncover illegal operations.

OMMA Executive Director Adria Berry said during a Friday briefing with reporters that after voters approved medical marijuana in 2018, the state had only 60 days to get a program up and running, and it was hard to keep pace with an industry that suddenly boomed because there were few statutory limits.

"We can't change where we came from, but we could definitely change where we're going. So, from this point on, it is a hard reset. We're going to be changing a lot of our procedures," Berry said.

OMMA is in the middle of hiring 40 compliance officers, something the legislature signed off on after a 25% increase in license applications in the past year. Berry said businesses should expect an inspection in the next year.

"So, grows, dispensaries, processors — anyone who has an OMMA commercial license will be inspected," Berry said.

Berry said the push to perform more inspections is part of an effort to ensure more consistency in regulations for businesses and in products for patients.

The agency is also adding six investigators who will help the state narcotics bureau look into illegal marijuana businesses, and OMMA is getting some new enforcement power on Nov. 1, like the ability to give businesses cease-and-desist orders for violations rather than starting administrative hearings.

Deputy Director Barret Brown said he’ll be meeting with lawmakers about certain issues but doesn’t see any big law changes that are needed, though he acknowledges a cap on business licenses could be a topic.

"I think given the recent conversations on that topic that have gone on for the last at least year or two, I would not at all be shocked if that topic is brought up, and that's something that we will approach in earnest and talk with legislators and try to come to a workable solution," Brown said.

Brown said OMMA does not, however, believe it should be harder to start a medical marijuana business in Oklahoma.

"We are a very business-friendly state, always have been and will continue to be here. What we do want to ensure is that those businesses who do start are doing it the right way and are following the right regulations, and that's what we're staffing up to ensure," Brown said.

The agency is in the process of convening working groups to look at issues where other state agencies get involved in marijuana businesses. Water use in rural areas was a specific concern raised during an legislative interim study.

OMMA is also in the middle of updating its licensing software and is bringing in a new compliance director to oversee the implementation of a seed-to-sale tracking system, but there’s still no timeline for that because of an active lawsuit.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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