Oklahoma is a relatively new entrant to the medical cannabis market that wasted no time making an impact.
Since voters passed State Question 788 in June 2018, the state has gone on to register scores of patients, open businesses and generate revenue.
The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) began accepting applications for businesses and patients in August 2018. More than 129,000 patients have been approved, along with over 800 caregivers, according to the OMMA.
By November of this year, 5% of Oklahomanshad medical cannabis cards.
In the same period, state officials approved more than 1,400 dispensaries and 3,000 growers.
Overall, Oklahoma has generated $18.1 million in application fees, along with $3 million in taxes, according to recent data.
Oklahoma's Licensing Process A Hit With Businesses
The rapid approval of an influx of businesses and patients is supported by the state's low barriers for enrollment, such as the naming of a qualifying medical condition being optional for patients.
Bill Thurman, founder and chairman of the board for Redbird Bioscience, a cultivation and processing facility in Stilwell, Oklahoma, described the first year of the program as busy.
"In one year, the number of medical [cardholders] has eclipsed the peak of the Colorado medical cannabis market despite the smaller population in Oklahoma."
Brent Walker is the co-founder of Cali Roots, a California-based dispensary with five locations in Oklahoma. Walker said the state's licensing process is excellent.
Cali Roots' application was turned around in 14 days, he said.
"This allowed everyone to apply without party politics and big money involved, which can corrupt the process," Walker said.
"This process gave everyone the same playing field, and so far it has been great."
The state's medical marijuana program is "much smoother" than California's in terms of regulation and oversight, he said.
Improving Patient Education, Industry Talent
While the results have been positive so far, there is room for improvement in patient enrollment, said Alex Milligan, the co-founder and CMO of Nugg, a medical cannabis delivery service that operates in several states including Oklahoma.
"In Oklahoma, it takes patients up to 30 days to receive their card in the mail, and some patients have reported it taking that long," Milligan said.
Amy Dawn Bourlon-Hilterbran is a cannabis entrepreneur with ventures that include the Oklahoma Cannabis Expo.
Now that access has been established, patient education should be a priority, she told Benzinga.
"I believe the market supports patients in Oklahoma far better than many other states with medical programs, but I firmly believe we can continually improve. We have to,” Bourlon-Hilterbran said.
She went on to describe the state's laws as "exemplary." The laws "should be the example for all states as we transition out of cannabis prohibition into more logical and compassionate laws and regulatory protocol."
Redbird Bioscience's Thurman said he considers the Oklahoma market to be an "incredibly robust" one.
“Oklahoma has proven to be an exemplary case study showcasing the efficacy of this model.”
When asked to describe Oklahoma's pain points, Thurman pointed to a talent gap.
"Self-professed experts proliferate [in] the industry; these individuals call themselves ‘master growers’ or ‘master extractors’ because they ran a few lights in a garage in the black market days."
Consultant Sees Oversaturated Market Ahead
While most painted a glowing picture, not everyone took the same position.
Josiah Chissoe, a consultant with seven years of experience in the space, grew up in Oklahoma.
The market will slowly dissolve beginning in the summer of 2020, in his view, due to a saturated market with a sizable producer-to-patient ratio.
“The licensing structure is basically a pseudo-rec program because there are no qualifying conditions," Chissoe said. "The OMMA is handing out producer licenses to nearly anyone that applies."
Cities like Broken Arrow that are enacting ordinances around cultivation zoning and regulations are a potential sign of developments to come, he said.
Nugg's Milligan said that if other cities follow Broken Arrow's example and pass more restrictive zoning ordinances, "then Oklahoma may have a lot fewer dispensaries by this time next year."
The Future Of Oklahoma's Marijuana Market
A thriving medical market tends to lead to an uptick in adult use legislation efforts.
Oklahoma is no different, and legalization advocates filed a petition with the state in December to place the topic on the 2020 ballot.
Cali Roots' Walker said the company looks forward to when Oklahoma goes recreational, forecasting a double in sales.
While adult use remains in the air, the focus is on Oklahoma's possible impact on the region.
Walker and Redbird Bioscience's Thurman touched on the state's reciprocity program and its effect on surrounding states.
Noting ongoing sales to citizens from Arkansas and Missouri, Thurman credited Oklahoma's "higher quality and greater variety of products."
Several sources Benzinga spoke with said the honeymoon phase will eventually emd, and numbers will ebb and flow more.
Most are confident in the program the state has put in place.
“We believe Oklahoma should — and likely will — serve as an inspiration for surrounding states considering the implementation of a more robust and open medical program,” Thurman said.
Public domain photo via Wikimedia.