On Tuesday, March 8th, Oklahoma voters rejected the proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, with 59% voting against and 41% in favor. The proposal, known as State Question 820, would have allowed anyone over the age of 21 to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, along with concentrates and marijuana-infused products, subject to a 15% excise tax on top of the standard sales tax. The tax revenue would have been used to fund local municipalities, the court system, public schools, substance abuse treatment, and the state’s general revenue fund.
Oklahoma voters had previously approved medical marijuana in 2018, making the state one of the most liberal programs in the country, with more than 2,800 licensed dispensaries and roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license to buy and consume cannabis. The low barriers for entry into Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry have led to a flood of growers, processors, and dispensary operators competing for a limited number of customers.
Despite the defeat of the proposal, supporters of legalization believe that full marijuana legalization is inevitable in Oklahoma. According to Michelle Tilley, campaign director for Yes on 820, almost 400,000 Oklahomans already use marijuana legally and “many thousands more” use it illegally. She notes that “a two-tiered system, where one group of Oklahomans is free to use this product and the other is treated like criminals does not make logical sense.”
Opponents of the proposal, including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and many of the state’s GOP legislators, argued that Oklahoma is a “law and order state” and that the proposal would lead to an increase in crime and drug use. Former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent, and Terri White, the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, led the “no” campaign.
The late blitz of opposition from faith leaders, law enforcement, and prosecutors also played a role in the defeat of the proposal. The prospect of having more Oklahomans smoking anything, including marijuana, didn’t sit well with some voters, like Mark Grossman, an attorney who voted against the proposal because he’s against smoking. “Tobacco smoking was a huge problem for my family,” he said.
In recent years, several conservative states like Montana and Missouri have approved similar proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, while others, like Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, have rejected the idea. It remains to be seen if Oklahoma will reconsider legalization in the future.
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