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Oklahoma marijuana dispensaries face oncoming challenges

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Oklahoma has more than 2,000 marijuana dispensaries, but as the number grows so do the challenges.

There are more than a dozen legislative bills dealing with medical marijuana, and some of those would bring limitations to current and future businesses.

Cliff Winn spent every bit of green he had to open a medical marijuana dispensary.

“Basically, I cashed out my 401k and pension and bet it all on me and bet it all on the cannabis industry in Oklahoma," he said. "That’s how much I love it,."

Now, he’s operating Ezy’s House of Dank. It’s a business and a job.

“Just trying to make a living, trying to pay my bills," said Winn. "I’ve got a mortgage and kids to feed. It’s a struggle."

It is a struggle he fears could get worse with legislation. One bill would increase the dispensary licensing fee from $2,500 to $10,000, initially and annually.

“What the spirit of the law 788 was to let the average Oklahoman get a foothold in the industry," said Winn. "To come at us a year later where we are all struggling, all fighting just to make a living, and then you are already trying to cut us out. Not good."

Business leaders are watching the industry.

“There will be a wave of legislation to try to curtail some of this activity, and some may be necessary. Some will probably be a bit frivolous,” said Eric Gomez, who is a real estate broker. He said some of his clients have complained about the number of dispensaries.

“People don’t want that high traffic close to their neighborhood,” he explained.

Meanwhile, one stretch of South Peoria is getting the nickname"Green Mile" with several dispensaries, at least three near Ezy’s House of Dank, and also close to Spirit Life Church.

“They are popping up everywhere, and you have to wonder, is it a good thing?” asked Pastor Tommy McLaurin.

McLaurin has his concerns because of a recovery program at his church. He’s worried about it being a bad atmosphere for those recovering from abuse, and he worries about medical marijuana being abused.

“Does it open that door? Does someone start with, ‘I’m taking it for medicine,’ and the next thing you know, they are smoking it, and it is a whole new level?” asked McLaurin.

State Rep. Jim Olsen has filed House Bill 2779, which would require dispensaries to be 1,000 feet away from churches.

“I don’t see why I would not be in favor of that," the Spirit Life Church pastor said. "Even though it is legal in our city, it doesn’t mean it has to be on every street corner."

Existing dispensaries would be exempt with a new required distance from places of worship.

“It’s a huge fear. That is why so many people are paying attention to what the Legislature is saying," Winn said, because they don’t know what to expect.

“You never know," Winn continued. "Like, here is the law, and it’s this way, and the next day, they can change it on you. There is no stability in this industry."

And he worries Oklahoma’s thriving medical marijuana business could wither if tight new regulations create a harsh climate for a product that’s clearly in demand.

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