Oklahoma Medical Cannabis firms file suit to block fee increases
A group of Oklahoma cannabis advocates has challenged new higher fees assessed on the state’s medical marijuana providers.
An Oklahoma cannabis activist has joined forces with three of the state’s medical marijuana providers to file a lawsuit against increased regulatory fees that went into effect last month. The legal action, which maintains that the fee increases are unconstitutional, was filed on Friday by Jeb Green, founder of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, and the medical marijuana dispensaries Pharside, Oklahoma Natural Cures, and Bingo 101.
The lawsuit challenges a new fee structure for medical marijuana businesses signed into law by Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt in May 2022. The measure, House Bill 2179 (HB 2179) raises the regulatory fees charged by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) for licensed medicinal cannabis businesses to operate in the state.
Previously, medical marijuana operators paid a flat fee of $2,500 for each licensed business. But under HB 2179, which went into effect on June 1 of this year, fees were hiked dramatically, with the largest cannabis cultivation operations now slated to pay up to $50,000 per year.
The lawsuit filed last week maintains that the fee increases authorized by the legislation constitute a “revenue-raising” measure, which under Oklahoma state law must be passed with at least a 75% majority of the members in both the Oklahoma Senate and the state House of Representatives. Additionally, revenue-raising bills may not be passed in the final five days of the legislative session.
But HB 2179 did not achieve the required supermajority and was passed in the closing days of the 2022 legislative session and was passed in the final days of the 2022 legislative session. The plaintiffs maintain that HB 2179 is not a simple regulatory bill because it does not add any new regulations intended to be funded by the new fees.
“In other words, the thrust of the legislation is not regulatory in nature but is designed to raise revenue instead,” the lawsuit states, as quoted by The Oklahoman. “Even if licensing fees provide some financial support to the OMMA, those fees are not closely tied to the cost of service for which they are imposed.”
The plaintiffs estimate that the new fees authorized by the legislation will increase licensing revenue collected by OMMA by at least $28,580,000 each year. The actual amount could be higher, they note, because some medical marijuana companies would be placed in different fee tiers based on the size of the operation.
The lawsuit claims that the increased fees are a violation of the Oklahoma Constitution and should be overturned. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that HB 2179 created a discriminatory “special law” because it contains a tiered fee structure for some businesses but not others.
“Our challenge to (the law) is about more than cannabis. This is a constitutional question that affects every Oklahoma taxpayer. We are respectfully requesting that the court consider our plea,” said Green. “Our medical marijuana program has been revenue-positive since Day One. It has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue the last five years. The license fee increases on our industry are not needed to support regulation.”
HB 2179 is not the only legislation passed to tighten the regulations for Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program. After a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in Oklahoma failed to gain voters’ approval in March, lawmakers introduced dozens of bills proposing stricter regulations on the state’s medical marijuana providers. Nine of the measure were approved by lawmakers and signed into law by Stitt. Among them is SB 18X, which creates a Medical Marijuana Tax Fund under the control of the state legislature that will accrue medical marijuana tax revenue collected by the state for appropriation to OMMA.