Shawnee Forward Chair and City Attorney Joe Vorndran, of Stuart & Clover Law Firm, led a panel discussion Wednesday, walking residents through some of the issues the state is facing as it attempts to establish medical marijuana regulations.

Shawnee Forward Chair and City Attorney Joe Vorndran, of Stuart & Clover Law Firm, led a panel discussion Wednesday, walking residents through some of the issues the state is facing as it attempts to establish medical marijuana regulations.

The other two panelists, CPA and tax accountant Jonathan Gauss, of Finley & Cook, and Jon Greenwood, director of prevention services with Gateway to Prevention & Recovery, also shared initial conflicts and concerns they are encountering in their fields of work.

The challenges are already proving to be numerous and, at times, complex.

Vorndran said he has a list of at least 13 conflicts between Federal and state laws — offering no avenue for compromise or resolution.

Among the biggest hurdles is that marijuana is still considered a controlled substance by the Federal government, Vorndran said. Therefore, by its standards, it is illegal to use — whether the state approves of it or not.

What that means is that in any situation where the Federal government is involved, a conflict automatically arises.

Things like banking, taxes, payroll, insurance and gun purchases are now going to be viewed through a whole new light.

“The point of this is to facilitate discussion, not necessarily preach to you,” Vorndran said. “Our primary focus for this — particularly for Jonathan and I — is to identify those issues legally and accounting-wise that you need to be aware of.”

He said there are a lot of answers not known yet and they may not be known for quite awhile.

“People need to know the associated risks with that as they launch into such a business and understand what to be looking at, who they need to be talking to, what professionals need to be engaged to ensure that going forward they and their businesses are protected.”

The state has spoken, he said.

“We know this is something that the state wants to see and we need to be respectful of that, as well,” he said.

Defining what “medical purposes” are, Vorndran said is something that will be fleshed out over time.

“I think it's got a very broad purpose right now,” he said. “I have faith in the voters of the state of Oklahoma that they understand that, but I do think that's an area where, as I read it, I think there's room for development there of what that means and what that looks like.”

Vorndran said he also expects to see some developments regarding the issuance of medical marijuana as it pertains to children.

As far as appeasing the law at the Federal level, there is no wiggle room.

“Depending on what kind of business you're in, you may be subject to Federal regulation,” he said. “Marijuana is still illegal at the Federal level; in my opinion that is a risk point.”

He said an employer with a drug policy needs to go back, look it over and see if they are subject to Federal regulation.

“How are you treating that within your policies,” he asked. “You also need to be very cognizant of the fact under state law that it says if they have proper licensure it is illegal. It raises a fine line that needs to be walked.”

There are employee rights as it pertains to state law, but maintaining compliance with Federal requirements if there are any, he said.

“I think that's going to be a tough issue for people,” he said.

Another issue is how to go about

“Employers have to be very cautious about terminating or disciplining an employee that they test positive for marijuana, particularly if that allegation is they were at work under the influence,” he said.

“We don't have a tried-and-true test that's going to be able to show that,” he said, “and I think that opens up some employers to some issues.”

Vorndran said banks are Federally regulated.

“Where does that put you if you have a business plan to be a retail seller of marijuana and you need a loan?” he asked. “Can you get a loan from the bank? The short answer is probably no.”

Bank accounts for businesses that involve some aspect of marijuana growth or products are likely a no-go as well, Vorndran said.

“You've got to have a bank in order to do credit card transactions,” he said. “Again, it pushes these new businesses into a cash-only situation, which I think has other pitfalls financially.”

Gauss said one of the biggest issues he has seen has to do with what expenses are deductible in relation to a marijuana business.

“A section of (tax) code (162) says any ordinary business expense can be deducted — payroll taxes, marketing, etc.,” he said. “Then comes the code section (218) that says, 'well, if you are trafficking in controlled substances you don't get to deduct any expenses to your income,' which basically jacks up your tax rate.”

Long story short, if you're in this business right now, the only thing you would be able to deduct is the cost of the marijuana purchased, he said.

Though medical marijuana shows some promise, Greenwood said the struggle for the prevention side of the issue is there still needs to be an immense amount of research done with that.

“The accessibility, with what 788 creates, is where the prevention and treatment concern comes from,” he said.

The regulations are basically changing every other day, he said.

“And there's also some lawsuits in place going against some of the regulations; this isn't going to be solved today or tomorrow,” Greenwood said.

Most of Gateway's clients started out with marijuana or tobacco, he said.

“It is a progression,” he said. “The lack of regulating that access is a real concern.”

Several other topics where touched upon, as well.

Watch for updates as the state continues to navigate through the medical marijuana regulation process.