Oklahoma Said NO to Legal Weed Earlier This Month
Earlier this month, voters in Oklahoma overwhelmingly rejected State Question 820, deciding
against the legalization of recreational cannabis. The results came as a shock to the rest of the
country and to the state that has been nicknamed “Tokelahoma” since legalizing medical
marijuana half a decade ago. With so much initial support in favor of full legalization, how did
this happen, and what can we expect for the next round of states looking to follow suit?
How The Wild (Central) West Was Won with Medical Marijuana
Here’s a little background. In Oklahoma, cannabis for medical use was legalized by a narrow
margin in 2018 and continues to be regulated under the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority
(OMMA). Much like California’s early legal landscape, there is hardly a caveat when it comes to
obtaining a license to purchase pot for medicinal reasons. Essentially, anyone with an
Oklahoma ID over 21 and a qualifying condition can visit a participating physician’s office for an
evaluation to apply for a medical marijuana card.
Once approved, there’s a $100 processing fee for most individuals. However, veterans and
other folks with extenuating circumstances can get most, if not all, of the costs, covered.
Applicants typically will get a response within two weeks and can then go to one of the many
licensed dispensaries sprinkled across the state
Progressive Action Prevailed with Lenient Rules for Medical Marijuana
One of the key underlining factors as to why the push for recreational cannabis in Oklahoma
failed (for now) has to do with the state’s progressive (or just incredibly lax) rule surrounding the
definition of a “qualifying condition” for medical marijuana use. The fact is, there isn’t a hardand-fast rule at all. The state government leaves it up to the physician to decide, again mirroring
the California roll-out of medical cannabis in the nineties, which essentially pioneered the
industry we see developing today.
To put it into perspective, approximately 10% of the state population, or one in ten individuals,
have a medical card in Oklahoma. That’s a hefty percentage considering the entire state
population barely exceeds four million people. After five years of legal medical marijuana, over
400,000 residents can buy weed legally. Dispensaries are plentiful statewide, with most
locations popping up in denser areas in and around Oklahoma City and Tulsa, including
surrounding suburbs and smaller towns. Politico Newsletter says there are over 12,000
registered marijuana businesses in Oklahoma currently.
The Takedown of Tokelahoma
Oklahoma was the first and among the most highly anticipated next-in-line to legalize adult
recreational use in 2023. Yet, State Question 820, as it’s known, was shot down by nearly 62%
of voters on March 7th. This notion left a lot of pro-cannabis advocates confused and many
more worried about the blossoming industry’s future not only for the Okie state but for the rest of
the country as well.
Opposing Campaigns Stepped Up Where Pro-Cannabis Groups Did Not
Despite an incredible amount of support and backing from the ACLU, American Civil Liberties
Union, and other huge, progressive advocacy organizations, it seems a much larger portion of
the state’s population got behind the more conservative groups rallying against legalization.
What AP News calls the “latest blitz of opposition from faith leaders, law enforcement, and
prosecutors,” the state of Oklahoma experienced a situation most other quickly legal med-to-rec
states have not; voter turnout rate was abysmal compared to the 2018 elections. Plus, there
was backing against legalization seen like never before.
The intense opposition has been spearheaded by the governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, along
with many other GOP leaders, former government officials, and other protesting organizations
who have poured tons of funding into campaigning against the legislation. Stitt believes that if
it’s not legal federally, it should not be left up to the state to decide.
Many Oklahomans Seem to be Okay with the Current Situation
The major underlining factor, as mentioned above, comes down to the registered voters of the
great state of Oklahoma. Kudos should be given to the regular folks and the hard-pinning
campaign-promoting, joint-smoking supporters of legal weed who actually showed up and voted
at the polls on March 7th.
The minority citizens that made up the disappointing (and barely) 38% of the YES votes for legal
recreational cannabis in Oklahoma should be praised because overall turnout was pretty poor,
especially compared to the results back in 2018 for medicinal legalization.
If you think about it, the Okie state got a pretty good deal when it comes to access for adults,
medically, from the get-go. Why bother fussing about recreational weed when it’s readily
available at dispensaries down the street with cute names like Cannabless or The Joint? To
some, they’ve already got a sustainable industry thriving for purveyors in the field.
However, the influx of crime related to the legal AND illegal trade of cannabis in Oklahoma has
soured the mouths of many citizens and officials across the state.
What's Next in the Fight to Legalize Cannabis Across the States
As it stands now, twenty-one U.S. states allow for recreational cannabis use for adults, while
thirty-seven states do have medical marijuana programs and dispensaries available to legal
adults with a medical license. In the 2022 midterm elections last November, Missouri and
Maryland passed bills for legal recreational cannabis, making them the most recent to be added
to the list. North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas also voted on similar bills, but all three
Many states are gaining momentum and support, and others are in the running to reintroduce
previously rejected legislation. Oklahoma’s already out, but according to MJBiz Daily, Ohio,
Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania all have a good shot of getting something on the ballot this year.
All we can hope is that in some of these more conservative states, the support outweighs the
opposition, so we don’t see what happened in Oklahoma happen elsewhere.