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Oklahoma Voters Reject Legalizing Recreational Marijuana
Oklahoma Voters Reject Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

Oklahoma Voters Reject Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

After a final-minute campaign of opposition from religious leaders, law enforcement, and prosecutors, Oklahoma voters rejected the legalization of recreational marijuana on Tuesday.

Oklahoma would have joined conservative states like Montana and Missouri that have recently adopted similar initiatives to legalize cannabis for adult use as the 22nd state to do so. Moreover, the notion was rejected by many conservative states, including Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, last year.

Nearly every Republican senator in the state as well as Republican Governor Kevin Stitt, opposed the proposal. Frank Keating, a former Republican governor, and FBI agent, and Terri White, a former commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Drug Addiction Services, led the “no” campaign.

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“We’re pleased the voters have spoken,” said Pat McFerron, a Republican political strategist who ran the opposition campaign. “We think this sends a clear signal that voters are not happy with the recreational nature of our medicinal system. We also think it shows voters recognize the criminal aspects, as well as the need for addressing mental health needs of the state.”

By a margin of 14 percentage points, Oklahoma voters approved medical marijuana in 2018. The state has one of the most liberal programs in the nation, with more than 2,800 licensed dispensaries and roughly 10% of the adult population of the state possessing a medical marijuana license to purchase and use cannabis.

On Tuesday’s legalization question, the “no” Last-minute campaign finance records reveal that the pro-initiative side was outspent more than 20 to 1, with supporters spending more than $4.9 million compared to roughly $219,000 against.

The lone issue on the statewide ballot was State Question 820, which was the outcome of a signature-gathering campaign last year. Early voting results indicated that rural areas were strongly opposed to the measure.

“Oklahoma is a law and order state,” Stitt said in a statement after 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.”

Oklahoma Voters Reject Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

If approved, the measure would have made it legal for anyone over 21 to buy and own up to 1 ounce of marijuana, concentrates, and goods infused with the drug. In addition to the regular sales tax, recreational sales would also have been subject to an additional 15% excise tax. The excise tax would benefit local governments, the court system, public schools, drug rehabilitation centers, and the state’s general income pool.

At the Crown Heights Christian Church in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, attorney Mark Grossman abstained because he didn’t like the idea of more people in Oklahoma smoking anything, even marijuana. “I was a no vote because I’m against smoking,” Grossman said. “Tobacco smoking was a huge problem for my family.”

Because of the low entry requirements for the medical marijuana market in Oklahoma, there is a glut of growers, processors, and dispensary owners vying for a small pool of clients. Advocates had hoped that a spike in out-of-state buyers would boost the state’s marijuana business, especially from Texas, which has close to 8 million residents in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro region, less than an hour’s drive from the Oklahoma border.

Notwithstanding the outcome on Tuesday, full legalization of marijuana, according to Yes on 820 campaign director Michelle Tilley, was unavoidable. Around 400,000 Oklahomans currently use marijuana lawfully, she said.  “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,” she said in a statement.

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