Medical marijuana dispensaries have popped up across Oklahoma over the past year, but lawyers for the state have decided the dispensaries' addresses are "private business information" and should not be released to the public.
Attorneys for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority rejected a request by Oklahoma Watch for the dispensaries' locations, deciding they are not subject to the state Open Records Act. The decision negates an agreement by industry representatives to make the information available through a records request.
Meanwhile, many dispensaries' locations and their medical marijuana deals are all over newspaper ads, billboards and smartphone apps like Leafly and Weedmaps.
The marijuana authority publishes the latest lists of licensed growers, processors and dispensaries on its website with names, license numbers, city, county and ZIP code. As recently as July, addresses were part of the information in the list of dispensaries.
Officials at the authority say their hands are now tied since new laws and regulations went into effect Aug. 1. They cite a section of House Bill 2612 referring to the "site location" of a license application.
"As used in this section, 'private business information' means information that, if disclosed, would give advantage to competitors or bidders including, but not limited to, information related to the planning, site location, operations, strategy, or product development and marketing of an applicant, unless approval for release of those records is granted by the business," the statute reads.
But the House author of the so-called medical marijuana "unity bill" disagrees with the authority's interpretation of the law.
"It was not the Legislature's intent this information be shielded from open records once a license was granted," said House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City. "I also don't agree that is what the statute reads."
Echols said the address issue first came up last year, with growers expressing concerns that the authority made commercial licensee addresses freely available on its website. Echols said he worked out a compromise with the Oklahoma Press Association and industry representatives during the legislative session that the authority would keep addresses off its online list, but would make them available under an open records request.
Authority officials said they are reviewing the law.
"We are continuing to work with legal counsel to review the law," said Terri Watkins, communications manager. "It is always our desire to provide all information that is not prohibited. We look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature to review the law so we can provide accurate information and openness."
Oklahoma Watch made its open records request for dispensary addresses Oct. 10. A month later, the authority sent a list similar to what is available online, without dispensary addresses.
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to oklahomawatch.org.