It hasn't taken long for the headaches to begin after passage of medical marijuana for Oklahoma.

It hasn't taken long for the headaches to begin after passage of medical marijuana for Oklahoma.

Civil lawsuits have been filed in two Oklahoma counties accusing state health officials of improperly imposing strict rules on the state's recently approved medical marijuana industry.

Separate lawsuits were filed Friday in Cleveland and Oklahoma counties over the policies that were adopted this week by the State Board of Health and then quickly approved by Gov. Mary Fallin.

“These rules are the best place to start in developing a proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana, with the highest priority given to the health and safety of Oklahomans. They are also the quickest and most cost-efficient way to get the process actually started as required by the law passed by the people,” Fallin said this week. “I expect modifications could occur in the future. I know some citizens are not pleased with these actions. But I encourage everyone to approach this effort in a constructive fashion in order to honor the will of the citizens of Oklahoma who want a balanced and responsible medical marijuana law.”

She said the state question placed an accelerated implementation period upon the Oklahoma State Department of Health, which is required to start the application process by July 26 – less than two weeks away.

“The Health Department has been working with 17 other agencies the past three months on crafting these emergency rules. Asking the Legislature to pass comprehensive legislation in a special session is not realistic,” she said.

Dealing with medical marijuana is unchartered territory for our state, she said, and there are many opinions, including divisive views even among SQ 788 backers, on how this should be implemented.

“Discussions have been going on the past few months in and outside the Capitol with no clear-cut agreement,” she said. “I appreciate the hard work of Interim Health Commissioner Tom Bates and his staff, who take seriously their responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Oklahomans.”

Two amendments were added to the emergency rules the Health Department proposed.

SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital-Shawnee President Chuck Skillings, who is on the state board, made the motion to ban smokable marijuana and later tacked on the request for pharmacist-required management of dispensaries.

He said the reasoning for his position was to protect Oklahoma residents.

“I think one of the other issues that concerns me is, when you look at just the last 10 years in Oklahoma, we've taken great concerted efforts to reduce smoking in our state. And we're about to take an action that's going to increase it — that's bothersome,” he said. “It's also bothersome to me that under the rules an individual, even though they will not be able to smoke where it's not permitted now, can still smoke marijuana in publicly-traveled places.”

He said he doesn't think the state is protecting the public that doesn't smoke.

“In fact, I think we're imposing a hazard on them,” he said.

Oklahoma State Department of Health General Counsel Julie Ezell said a long time was taken to look into the smoking issue.

“I would say two things. I think that there's provisions that allow home-grow, so patients can have live plants; I think the implication there is they can smoke it or do whatever they want with it,” she said. “Also, I think whenever most voters went to the ballot box and voted for this, assumed that this would be smokable marijuana — just kind of a common-sense approach.”

She said she knows there's thought about recommending physician standards and a physician would never recommend a product that had to be smoked.

“That provision is kind of interesting, because there's Federal case law that says physicians can't actually prescribe marijuana because it jeopardizes their DEA license,” she said. “They can only make a recommendation, and the recommendation has to be for medical marijuana generally — not for specific types.”

So that's why the rules are written as they currently are, she said.

“We've tied it to the Oklahoma Smoking Indoor Workplaces Act — I can't remember the name of it exactly — to try to limit that, but I think that is something that certainly, as the Board of Health, is within your authority to go in a different direction if that is what you choose to do,” she said.

The board of Fallin appointees voted 5-4 Tuesday to approve a ban on the sale of smokable marijuana and requiring pharmacists at dispensaries, despite a warning from Ezell that it could open the door for legal challenges.

At the meeting, Board Member Terry Gerald II asked Ezell about the potential for a pharmacist-run operation.

“Julie, were there some medical associations that wanted to have a pharmacist onsite at the dispensaries, and that's not currently in the regulations as it's proposed now, correct?” Gerald asked.

“Not only medical associations, but other agency partners — as we looked at that, I did not feel like we could get there under the law, but what we did do was this dispensary manager (position),” she responded.

She said she worked with the Board of Pharmacy on that language, talking about what that person would do — every dispensary would be required to have one — and that person would be identified when they apply and would have very strict duties and guidelines they would have to implement as well as policy, supervision of employees, patient education and things like that.

Gerald further probed, “So you feel regulating that a pharmacist would have to be onsite would be outside of our legal scope to be able to regulate, with this?”

She said, “I do, yes.”

She said that was one of the items that was on the list to go to the legislature next spring.

There also was some discussion about limiting the number of dispensaries (to allow only 50) in the state.

“I've done that legal research, and it's my legal opinion that limitation can only be accomplished by statute; we cannot accomplish it by rule,” Ezell said.

The medical marijuana measure passed June 26 with nearly 57 percent of the vote. As required by State Question 788, the state is to begin accepting applications by Aug. 25.

Interim Commissioner of Health Tom Bates said Tuesday his office anticipated legal challenges and was prepared to defend the new rules.

Watch for updates.