I was recently asked to moderate Solvent Direct’s Class 6 Compliance Summit in Oklahoma City. The intention of the summit was to bring regulators, operators, consultants, legal experts, and market experts together for a conversation about regulations, safety, and compliance in Oklahoma’s Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) extraction industry. Living in California, I didn’t know much about Oklahoma’s cannabis market beyond the talk of loose regulations, small barriers to entry, and non-existent plant limits that I had heard at industry events elsewhere. When I hit the ground in Oklahoma City I found processors and business owners who were frustrated and confused by the current state of regulation and enforcement.
In order to understand the current state of the Oklahoma LPG extraction industry, it’s important to understand the history of how things got to where they are today. On June 27 of 2018 State Question 788 was passed, which legalized medical marijuana in Oklahoma. SQ 788 required the Oklahoma State Department of Health to devise a licensure system and begin accepting applications from patients, caregivers and businesses by August 25 of 2018, only 59 days later. It was determined that a dedicated division was needed to handle medical marijuana in Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) was created, along with a website where license applications and payments could be submitted. According to SQ 788, the state had just 14 days to approve or deny each application submitted. Over a thousand applications were submitted on the first day the system went live. The tight timelines for system implementation and application decisions resulted in a significant number of marijuana business licenses being granted in a very short period of time without having the necessary infrastructure in place to regulate these businesses.
OMMA licenses in hand, business owners began to operate and extractors set up shop. No single regulating body was in place to ensure that licensed cannabis businesses were safely using LPGs in their processes. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) over a business varies greatly depending on where in the state it is located. In heavily populated areas, the city fire marshal will likely be the AHJ, while in more sparsely populated areas it will be the county or state fire marshal. None of these offices had enough trained staff to effectively oversee the number of licenses that had been granted by the OMMA. Licensed cannabis businesses began to operate using un-odorized LPGs, many of whom had never been in contact with any fire marshall at all. Some had proper safety protocols in place, some did not.
When the Oklahoma LP Gas Board became aware of what was taking place in their state, it was mandated that a Class 6 un-odorized LP gas end user endorsement permit be issued to any business using un-odorized LPGs. In order to obtain a class 6 permit, LPG users must file an application with the LP Gas Board which includes a building site plan showing the location of a C1D1 room, a peer review of their extraction equipment, a peer review of their C1D1 extraction booth that meets NFPA 58 & 70 standards, a certificate of liability insurance, and a state fire marshal permit # or certificate of occupancy from the AHJ. In order to ensure that extractors operate under these guidelines, the LP gas board now requires LP gas suppliers to verify the class 6 permit of any customer in the state of Oklahoma, effectively deputizing LP gas suppliers as an enforcement arm of the LP Gas Board whether they like it or not.
Many of the extractors and business owners I spoke with at the summit were in a state of licensure limbo, where they had been granted an OMMA license, but were unable to operate because they were awaiting an inspection from their AHJ. They were completely in the dark as to what lay ahead for their businesses, had not been given appointment dates, and could not get an email or phone call returned. One solution proposed by an audience member was to host a barbecue for the local fire department in order to get shuffled closer to the top of the insurmountable stack of applications the fire inspector had to work through…
The regulations on utilizing LPGs were created for very good reason, and safety is of the utmost importance when extracting with any hazardous solvents or equipment. I am in 100% agreement that LPG extraction needs to take place in a C1D1 environment, and all mandated safety protocols and procedures should be met or exceeded. The issues at hand are the lack of communication between state agencies, the lack of qualified facility inspectors, the lack of due diligence before granting cannabis licenses to processing businesses, and the general lack of planning that resulted from voters passing a sloppily crafted initiative which required the Oklahoma State Department of Health to start granting licenses just 73 calendar days after it was passed. The current state of affairs in Oklahoma is a perfect example of how hastily implementing a quick cash grab for tax dollars and licensure fees with a disorganized roll out can put citizens in harm’s way, both physically and financially.