OKLAHOMA CITY — Advocates say food inspectors as well as medical marijuana and cannabidiol dispensaries and processors may face a learning curve in the coming weeks as counties begin the arduous task of inspecting hundreds of new businesses for the first time.
Bud Scott, executive director of the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association, said the county sanitarians had been doing voluntary visits with the licensees to get an idea of what to anticipate. Scott said inspectors will “hopefully not be too overly stringent like they can be with restaurants.”
“More than anything, some of the discussions we’ve had with their leadership over there (at the state Department of Health) is trying to get a basic set of guidelines for dispensaries that would be offering edibles because there’s not any sort of checklist or pure regulatory guidance for this.”
He said there will likely be “growing pains” as health inspectors try to figure out how to best work with the fledgling industry that uses different equipment than restaurants and commercial kitchens.
For the past few months, the state Health Department gave businesses a grace period to obtain food licenses. To date, 366 food licenses for medical marijuana businesses have been issued and another 304 are either under review or awaiting payment, according to statistics provided by the agency.
Scott said those numbers will continue to climb as more processed goods become available for dispensaries.
“The amount of product that is out there — and consistent product — is pretty slim,” he said.
While the food inspection requirements have been on the books for some time now, Scott said they came as a surprise for some. Dispensaries are “more outraged” that they have to participate because they’re selling prepackaged goods, he said.
Health Department spokesman Tony Sellars said the inspections are designed to protect consumers and are welcomed by most in the industry.
“(We want) to make sure that the consumer knows what they’re buying when they walk in and get a product — that it’s been inspected and deemed safe for individual use,” he said. “There was really no way prior to this to determine this.”
He said counties are responsible for inspecting the businesses. Inspectors, Sellars said, will be looking to ensure all edibles are in compliance with the food codes. That includes selling in-date products and items with correct labeling.
Oklahomans for Health Chair Chip Paul, who co-wrote the ballot initiative that legalized the drug last year, said he’s been fielding questions from Oklahomans about how to ensure they’re buying safe medicinal marijuana products.
Consumers want to know their medication is quality from grow to dispensary, he said. He believes the oversight is necessary, and the inspections should help give consumers some reassurance.
“We should be tightly regulated, frankly, and our regulations are pretty loose, so we should be tightly regulated under those loose regulations,” he said.
Paul also runs a natural products company that manufactures cannabidiol products.
Alycia Robinson, co-owner of Urbn Roots, said an application for that Enid dispensary was submitted in April. The application focused on things like storing foods at proper temperatures and how high off the floor food should be stored.
Robinson said she was initially surprised that they had to apply for a food license since they sell prepackaged foods.
As of Wednesday, inspectors had not been by yet.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.