OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma voters rejected a state question Tuesday to allow for the recreational use of marijuana, following a late blitz of opposition from faith leaders, law enforcement and prosecutors.
Oklahoma would have become the 22nd state to legalize adult use of cannabis and join conservative states like Montana and Missouri that have approved similar proposals in recent years. Many conservative states have also rejected the idea, including Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota last year.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and many of the state’s GOP legislators, including nearly every Republican senator, opposed the idea. Former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent, and Terri White, the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, led the ‘no’ campaign.
State Question 820, the result of a signature gathering drive last year, was the only item on the statewide ballot. Other conservative states have legalized recreational cannabis use, including Montana in 2020 and Missouri last year, but several have rejected it, including Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The plan faced opposition from leaders of several faith groups, along with law enforcement and prosecutors, led by former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent, and Terri White, the former head of the state's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.
"We don't want a stoned society," Keating said Monday, flanked by district attorneys and law enforcement officers from across the state.
The "no" side was outspent more than 20-to-1, with supporters of the initiative spending more than $4.9 million, compared to about $219,000 against, last-minute campaign finance reports show.
The proposal, if passed, would allow anyone over the age of 21 to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, plus concentrates and marijuana-infused products. People could also legally grow up to 12 marijuana plants. Recreational sales would be subjected to a 15% excise tax on top of the standard sales tax. The excise tax would be used to help fund local municipalities, the court system, public schools, substance abuse treatment and the state’s general revenue fund.
The proposal also outlines a judicial process for people to seek expungement or dismissal of prior marijuana-related convictions.
State officials would have three months after the question passes to establish the rules necessary to implement the new law.
Passage of the state question would result in an increase of $1.8 billion in recreational sales that would generate about $434 million in excise tax revenue alone from 2024 to 2028, according to an economic impact study sponsored by the cannabis industry. By far the largest number of out-of-state consumers would be from Texas, followed by Arkansas and Kansas, the report shows.
Both the additional revenue for the state and the expungement of prior convictions appealed to Redeana Moton, who voted for the proposal Tuesday at Crown Heights Christian Church in Oklahoma City.
"I just don't see marijuana as a harsh drug," Moton said.
The prospect of having more Oklahomans smoking anything, including marijuana, didn't sit well with Mark Grossman, an Oklahoma City attorney who voted against the proposal.
"I was a no vote because I'm against smoking," Grossman said. "Tobacco smoking was a huge problem for my family."
Oklahoma voters already approved medical marijuana in 2018 by 14 percentage points and the state has one of the most liberal programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license.
The low barriers for entry into the industry has led to a flood of growers, processors and dispensary operators competing for a limited number of customers. Supporters also say the state's marijuana industry would be buoyed by a rush of out-of-state customers, particularly from Texas, which has close to 8 million people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area just a little more than an hour drive from the Oklahoma border.
"We do have one of the most permissible (medical) programs in the country, but the idea that you have to spend your time and money to go to a doctor and basically buy immunity from criminal prosecution is a pay-to-play system that I just don’t like," said Ryan Kiesel, a former state lawmaker and one of the organizers of the Yes on 820 campaign.