Voters in Oklahoma Say ‘No’ to Recreational Marijuana Question

Tuesday, Oklahoma voters rejected a state question to allow the recreational use of marijuana after a late offensive of opposition from law enforcement, prosecutors, and faith leaders.

If approved, Oklahoma would have become the 22nd state to legalize the adult use of marijuana, joining other conservative states, Missouri and Montana, which approved similar measures in recent years. Last year, several conservative states rejected similar proposals, including North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas.

GOP Governor Kevin Stitt and many of Oklahoma’s Republican legislators, including almost every GOP senator, opposed the idea. Former Republican Governor Frank Keating, a former agent with the FBI, and Terri White, former head of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, were leaders of the “no” campaign.

“We’re pleased the voters have spoken,” said Republican political strategist in charge of the opposition campaign, Pat McFerron. “We think this sends a clear signal that voters recognize the criminal aspects, as well as the need for addressing mental health needs of the state.”

Voters in Oklahoma approved the medical use of cannabis in 2018 by 14 percentage points. The state has one of the most abundant programs in the country, with over 2,800 licensed dispensaries and around 10% of the adult population having a medical license to purchase and consume marijuana.

Tuesday’s legalization question saw the “no” side was outspent by the “yes” by more than 20-1. According to campaign finance reports, supporters of the initiative spent over $4.9 million compared to the $219,000 against it.

Question was the only item on the statewide ballot

The legalization of the recreational use of cannabis appeared on the ballot as State Question 820 and was the only item on the statewide ballot. Early results indicated heavy opposition in rural locations.

“Oklahoma is a law-and-order state,” said Stitt in a statement following Tuesday’s vote. “I remain committed to protecting Oklahomans, and my administration will continue to hold bad actors accountable and crack down on illegal marijuana operations in our state.”

If the proposal had passed, it would have allowed anyone over 21 to purchase or possess as much as 1 ounce of marijuana, along with marijuana-infused products and concentrates.

Recreational sales would have added a 15% excise tax in addition to the standard sales tax. According to its supporters, the additional excise tax would be used to help fund the court system, substance abuse treatment, local municipalities, public schools, and the state’s general revenue fund.

The minimal barriers to admittance into Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry have produced a flood of processors, growers, and dispensary operators competing for a limited amount of customers. Those supporting the measure had hoped Oklahoma’s marijuana industry would be lifted by a flood of out-of-state buyers, especially from Texas, which has almost 8 million people living in the Dallas-Fort Worth area only a little more than an hour’s drive from the Oklahoma border.

According to the Yes on 820 campaign, director Michelle Tilley said that despite Tuesday’s result, full legalization was inevitable. She said almost 400,000 Oklahomans already take marijuana legally, and “many thousands more” use it illegally.

“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,” said Tilley in a statement.