More than 100 Oklahoma Farm Bureau members, guests and legislators gathered for OKFB’s State Leadership Conference Tuesday, Feb. 15 in Oklahoma City.
The event kicked off with Donnie Anderson, director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, giving an update on medical marijuana in Oklahoma and explaining the challenges the booming industry has posed. Anderson shared with OKFB members the growth OBN has seen in the industry’s illegal activity.
“Drug trafficking organizations have infiltrated Oklahoma,” he said.
Oklahoma has seen exponential growth in marijuana operations – both legal and illegal – due to cheaper land prices, inexpensive licensing fees and no limits on number of dispensaries. Oklahoma has 2,300 marijuana dispensaries, while states like Oregon, Colorado and California have a fraction of that with 560, 520 and 261, respectively.
Oklahoma has also issued 382,069 medical marijuana cards – almost 10% of the state’s nearly 4 million people, Anderson said.
He also stressed the impacts marijuana operations have on the land, the environment and the surrounding community. Top environmental impacts are mold, waste and improper disposal, electricity hazards, excessive water usage and strains on the power grid. Other impacts include suspicious land sales, public safety and law enforcement safety.
“This didn’t happen overnight, and it is not going to change overnight,” Anderson said.
Farm Bureau members also had the chance to hear from Adria Berry, executive director of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Six months into her role at OMMA, Berry is optimistic about the direction her organization is taking.
“We can change the way we’re going, and we can change the way we’re doing things,” she said.
Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry began with the passage of State Question 788 in June 2018 and now has more than 8,300 growers in the state, Berry said.
Like Anderson, Berry attributed the unprecedented growth to the absence of licensing caps and lack of qualifying conditions to obtain a medical marijuana card.
Berry said the process to get a medical marijuana card is as simple as meeting with a physician online and submitting the doctor’s recommendation along with a photo ID. The applicant often receives their card within a week.
She encouraged OKFB members to be a part of the solution and communicate with her organization if they notice suspicious activity.
Over lunch, Sen. Roger Thompson and Rep. Kevin Wallace visited with attendees to give a state appropriations and budget update.
They spoke on the proposed grocery tax elimination and the importance of increasing the state’s savings. They also discussed expanding rural broadband, improving roads and bridges and the importance of the Oklahoma State University extension service.
State auditor Cindy Byrd kicked off the afternoon speaker lineup, discussing her role as state auditor and the many types of audits she performs.
“It’s very important to me as state auditor to listen to our citizens,” she said.
Byrd explained the role ad valorem taxes play in funding public schools and shared the details of the investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools. She also encouraged OKFB members to be involved in county government and volunteer to sit on county boards.
“Taxpayer funds have to be safeguarded,” she said.
Farm Bureau members also had the opportunity to hear from Oklahoma’s delegation of congressional staff, including staffers from the offices of Sen. Jim Inhofe, Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Frank Lucas. They visited with OKFB members about the upcoming farm bill, challenges with Waters of the United States and the growing tension between Russia and Ukraine.
Harrison Pittman, director of the National Ag Law Center, gave the evening’s keynote address, stressing the importance of understanding agriculture before understanding agricultural law. Pittman explained the factors that influence agricultural law, including consumer influence, interdependence on foreign countries and tactical changes.
He also spoke on the future of agricultural law, citing challenges like increased foreign ownership of agricultural land and urban encroachment on rural areas.
The evening wrapped up with a reception and dinner to honor state legislators and recognize the 10 legislators who received the 2021 OKFB Champion Award. Champion award winners for the 2021 legislative session included House Speaker Charles McCall, Rep. Ryan Martinez, Rep. Dell Kerbs, Rep. Carl Newton, Rep. John Pfeiffer, Sen. Greg Treat, Sen. Darcy Jech, Sen. Lonnie Paxton, Sen. Frank Simpson and Sen. Zack Taylor.