Oklahoma’s burgeoning cannabis industry will remain medical only after voters rejected a proposed ballot initiative that would have legalized adult-use marijuana in the state.
The initiative, State Question 820, would have allowed adults aged 21 and over to possess, cultivate, and purchase marijuana for recreational use.
Despite the backing of several high-profile organizations, including the Oklahoma Democratic Party and the Marijuana Policy Project, the initiative faced opposition from law enforcement groups and some prominent political leaders.
Supporters of the initiative expressed disappointment with the outcome and reiterated the potential economic benefits of legalization, including increased tax revenue and job creation. The measure called for a 15% excise tax plus a standard sales tax.
Specifically, the measure would have allowed adults over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use and grow up to six mature plants and six seedlings at home. It also would have established a system for regulating and taxing marijuana sales.
Organizers planned to have the ballot initiative on the midterm election ballot in November, but the state’s high court declined to order ballots printed with a still-pending recreational marijuana legalization ballot question on them.
Getting a vote placed on a special election ballot or moved to the state primaries – as other governors who oppose legalization have tried to do before – typically means a much lower turnout.
Nearly 62% voted no, while 38% voted yes, with more than 95% of ballots counted as of Wednesday morning. A little more than 566,000 people turned out to the polls to participate.
The opposing side was outspent more than 20-to-1, the Associated Press reported. Supporters of the initiative coughed up more than $4.9 million versus about $219,000 against, campaign finance records show.
Some reasons why the legalization initiative may have been rejected by Oklahomans include:
- Concerns about the potential negative effects of marijuana on public health and safety, particularly among young people.
- The belief among some voters that marijuana should remain illegal and that legalization would send the wrong message to children and teenagers.
- The idea that legalization would lead to increased drug use and addiction.
Oklahoma already legalized medical marijuana and has nearly 400,000 registered patients, representing 10% of the state’s population – more than surveys taken before the rollout had reported due to the program’s increasing access.
“There are many thousands more using marijuana acquired off the illicit market,” Yes on 820 campaign director Michelle Tilley said in a statement.
The state has taken a laissez-fair approach to its MMJ program, and its main metropolis has hundreds of dispensaries for medical patients to choose from.
Passing adult-use likely would have created a windfall for retailers caught in the evermore crowded supply side.
There were 12,446 licensed medical cannabis companies across all value chains in the state as of March 2023, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority database.
Some medical marijuana advocates have expressed concerns that the rejection of the adult-use legalization initiative could make it more difficult to expand the state’s medical program or to further reform marijuana laws in the future.
“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,” Tilley said. “Furthermore the cost in lost revenue and lives disrupted by senseless arrests hurts all of us.”