TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Although medical marijuana is legal in Oklahoma, its status with the federal government as an illegal substance has clouded understanding of applicable rules and regulations.
One aspect that has medical marijuana cardholders concerned is the potential for their information to be shared, and the legality of transporting cannabis. With what many perceive as a negative stigma attached to marijuana use, some prefer that their use of it be kept out of the spotlight.
After the State Question 788 was approved by voters in summer 2018, the Oklahoma Legislature spent a portion of its regular session working out any regulatory issues. But one question remains among industry professionals: Do marijuana cardholders receive HIPAA (Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act) protections?
Regardless of whether they're required by law, employees of local dispensaries say they won't disclose any information about patients they see.
"That would be completely ridiculous for me to do that," said Josh Wogoman, bud tender at SoulAge Inc. "Whether or not I'm a doctor, I still consider it a patient-doctor confidentiality type thing. Even whenever I tell stories outside of here, I never give away any names. I wouldn't want the same done to me."
HIPAA, a privacy law passed in 1996, set policies, procedures, and guidelines to maintain patient security and privacy over protected health information. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, which responded to a list of questions by the Oklahoma Gazette, the law does not apply to OMMA cardholders, "because the OMMA is not a covered entity subject to HIPAA regulations under federal law."
The authority did go on to state that patients and caregivers are protected under state law and that application records and information are sealed.
Some people are open about their medicinal use, but not everyone. So dispensaries will help customers ensure their privacy is kept at all costs.
"We definitely have customers who ask us to park in the back," said Parker Weavel of Quahlity Buds. "There's been one situation where it's been based on competition, and they didn't want their buddy seeing their car parked outside."
While OMMA may not be "subject to HIPPA regulations," the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana and Patient Protection Act, more commonly known as the Unity Bill, includes language stating that registration systems for cardholders are compliant with HIPAA.
According to the Unity Bill, the OMMA's registry of patients and caregivers - the handling of any records maintained - "shall complete with all relevant state and federal laws including, but not limited to, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act." It also states any records maintained by OMMA "shall be marked confidential, shall not be made available to the public and shall only be made available to the licensee, designee of the license, any physician of the licensee or the caregiver of the licensee."
Joseph Gibson, owner of Potent Processing, mainly works in the wholesale of marijuana concentrates, but he'll also help the occasional patient process their "flower." He said it's important that every cannabis business have "essential core values and ethics that they will operate under."
"We don't claim to be doctors, and I'm very clear that they need to speak with their doctor," he said. "But they look at me for my advise and people naturally will tell me all sorts of things about them … it's private. You can come in and ask about someone if you want, but you're not going to get any further than you would at a doctor's office. The law doesn't have to come in and tell me what's right."
Representatives from CBD Plus, The Green Stag Cannabis Co., and Minerva Canna all agreed a patient's information is confidential, and employees won't divulge any customers' names or what they do for a living.
Another recent bill that passed was the state's Permitless Carry law, allowing people to carry firearms without a permit, license, or training. Gun owners who want to toke and tote don't have to worry, either. The Unity Bill also states "a medical marijuana patient or caregiver licensee shall not be denied the right to own, purchase or possess a firearm, ammunition, or firearm accessories based solely on his or her status as a medical marijuana patient or caregivers licensee."
State cardholders are allowed to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana in their residences; up to 1 ounce of concentrated marijuana; up to 72 ounces of edible marijuana; up to six mature plants; up to six seedling plants; and up to 3 ounces of marijuana "leaf" on their person.
According to Tahlequah Police Assistant Chief Steve Garner, as long as someone has a card, any marijuana within the limits of the law will not be confiscated if found during a traffic stop.
While transporting marijuana in a vehicle, none should be out in the open with easy access to it, as it is still illegal drive under the influence. This is the same as with alcohol: Even a person who isn't technically drunk could be arrested for open container.
This is the second in a two-part series on medical marijuana. The third part will focus on different products available around the area.