OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority has temporarily closed its customer service center to free up more staff to respond to the high volume of applications for medical marijuana cards.
The number of applications received per week rose from 1,200 in September to around 5,000 in February, agency officials said. The agency's policy requires a response to emails, requests and applications within 14 calendar days.
The authority has reassigned the call center's three to five employees from working the phones to processing applications full-time, KFOR-TV reported.
Melissa Miller, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority's spokeswoman, said the agency also hired extra staff to address the rising demand. The shift allows them to respond to 300-500 more applications daily.
"We focused our staff efforts on processing those applications," said Miller. "So, we've temporarily shut down the call center to make sure we can process those applications in a timely manner."
Oklahoma has issued over 65,000 medical marijuana cards since voters approved medicinal marijuana last June.
The decision briefly eliminates a widely used customer service. The call center answered around 1,000 medical marijuana inquiries every week before closing in early February.
Jerry Flowers, owner of Urban Wellness Dispensary in Edmond, said the change has his phones buzzing with questions about licensing because customers don't know who to ask.
"The lack of efficiency that the OMMA is working at is causing a lot of problems for a lot of dispensaries," said Flowers. "It's creating a little bottleneck."
Flowers said the closure of the call center is especially restricting for patients who may not be web-savvy.
"A good portion of our patients are over 60, they don't surf the web, but the OMMA requires them to do everything online," he said. "It's a little frustrating for us and for the patients."
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