Leading the Pack: Oklahoma is Well Aware of Marijuana’s Potential

Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry is shaping up to be one of the most unique MMJ markets in the nation, with a large number of players vying for attention. A spike in business registrations with the Oklahoma Secretary of State could indicate the creation of potentially hundreds of new marijuana-related companies in the emerging industry.

Oklahoma Secretary of State Jim Williamson said his office registered more than 4,000 total businesses since the end of June when State Question 788 was passed, legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Last year, during the same time period, the office saw about 3,100. The 30 percent increase leads Williamson to speculate many are related to marijuana.

“It would be a natural deduction to say that upward of 900 during that period of time could well be related to this marijuana issue,” Williamson said. “It’s not necessarily that all of them are, but it gives you something to compare it to.”

A search of the records since late June revealed more than 100 limited liability companies and other new businesses registered under names with key words related to marijuana in their title. Words such as “cannabis,” “kush,” “pot,” “bud,” “dispensary,” “ganja” and more were found in the registrations during the weeks following the elections.

Business found in the search include “AOK Cannabis LLC,” “Okie Kush, LLC,” “The Bud Hut, LLC,” “Okie Ganja, LLC,” “Hempworx, LLC,” and “Smoklahoma Cannabis Company.”

Hiding inside the numbers

Other companies may decide to register under a more confidential or discrete name, and still enter the industry, Williamson said. He didn’t believe the industry accounted for the nearly 900 new filings, but estimated it could be several hundred with the inclusion of the generically named marijuana businesses.
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The actual number registering to enter the industry is difficult to estimate because companies aren’t required to list what kind of business they intend to enter, only whether they intend to legally conduct business in Oklahoma, according to Assistant Secretary of State Tod Wall. A business with “cannabis” in its name may not share any other ties to the marijuana industry, for example.

“The purpose statement (on a registration) often simply says ‘To legally conduct business in the state of Oklahoma,'” Wall said.

Registered businesses are not a direct translation for future store locations. A single LLC may open several brick-and-mortar locations. Another marijuana-related business might be solely in the transportation business, with less visibility than a retailer.

“It’s not going to be a true representation of all the little stores that are popping up,” Wall said.
The Secretary of State’s office also receives requests to reserve names for potential businesses. These requests are held for a limited time while a decision is made regarding whether an owner or operator wishes to file the full paperwork to register the business. Of more than 400 on the reserved names list, nearly 140 held titles with similar allusions to marijuana.

Most of the filings list an address in the Oklahoma City or Tulsa metro areas. However there are filings scattered around the state.

While these companies are registered to operate as a business in Oklahoma, any company that intends to do business with marijuana will need to seek additional licensing.

Filing period begins for licensing

Thursday marked the beginning of the filing process for medical licensing for marijuana businesses. Any business intending to sell marijuana is required to have a license through the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, including growers, processors and transportation companies. Completed applications must be submitted online, but they won’t be accepted until Aug. 25.

Businesses then will be required to register with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control after receiving a license from the association. Growers, processors, and dispensary applicants are required by law to register before any medical marijuana or medical marijuana products are present at a business.

Just three months after voters approved State Question 788 – a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma – regulators have awarded more than 1,100 business licenses throughout the state.

That figure includes nearly 400 dispensary and 600 cultivation licenses, putting Oklahoma’s MMJ industry nearly on par with Colorado’s adult-use market in terms of the amount of licensed businesses.
The large number of licensees in a state with roughly 4 million residents raises questions about how profitable the new businesses ultimately will be.

“Oklahoma did medical marijuana like we started our state,” said Joe Norwood, an attorney at Norwood Law Firm in Tulsa. “Everyone just lined up, the starting gun was shot off, and people went and started staking their claims. I guess that’s how we like it here in the Sooner State.”

Officials in Oklahoma will award additional licenses in the coming days and weeks. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority – the agency overseeing MMJ in the state – has indicated that nearly 500 applications remain in the pipeline.

The speed and scale at which Oklahoma’s program has unfolded was by design.

       Under State Question 788:

  • There are no caps on the number of MMJ business licenses that can be awarded.
  • Doctors are allowed to recommend the product for any condition they see fit.
  • Municipalities are prohibited from enacting zoning restrictions to prevent dispensaries from opening.
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