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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 were rejected.

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.