After Approving Medical Marijuana 5 Years Ago, Oklahoma Voters Reject Broader Legalization
Oklahoma voters, who approved medical marijuana by a 14-point margin in 2018, yesterday declined to go further, rejecting a ballot measure that would have allowed recreational use and authorized state-licensed businesses to serve that market. State Question 820, which was the only thing on the ballot in most counties during this special election, was opposed by 62 percent of voters. The initiative, which originally was proposed for last November’s ballot but was delayed by a legal challenge, would have made Oklahoma the 22nd state to legalize recreational marijuana.
“We’re pleased and excited that Oklahomans recognize the dangers of marijuana to our kids, to our families,” Pat McFerron, a spokesman for the opposition campaign, told KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City. “What [voters] said was, ‘We don’t want to go further. We’ve seen the ills of unfettered marijuana use in our state. We’ve heard those stories from other places, and we don’t want to travel down that road.'”
Ryan Kiesel, a spokesman for the Yes on 820 campaign, promised that the fight for legalization would continue. “This is not the end of the effort to end prohibition in the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “This is halftime.”
The initiative would have eliminated civil and criminal penalties for adults 21 or older who publicly possess an ounce or less of marijuana. It also would have allowed home cultivation, limited to six mature plants and six seedlings, and private possession of the marijuana produced by those plants.
Recreational sales would have been subject to a 15 percent excise tax, which a report commissioned by the Question 820 campaign estimated would yield more than $100 million in revenue each year. Commercial licenses initially would have been limited to existing medical marijuana growers and retailers. After two years, additional suppliers could have applied for licenses. Local governments would have been allowed to regulate retailers but not ban them or cap their number, and they would have received a share of tax revenue based on sales in their jurisdictions.
While marijuana arrests fell dramatically after Oklahoma legalized medical use in 2018, a report from Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform noted that police still busted 4,500 people for pot possession in 2020. The group said more than 60,000 Oklahomans have cannabis-related criminal records, many of which could have been cleared under Question 820, which would have authorized people to seek expungements of marijuana convictions involving conduct that was no longer illegal.
“This was about keeping Oklahomans out of the criminal justice system,” Kiesel said. “The idea that you cannot get into the criminal justice system for marijuana in the state of Oklahoma is not based in reality at all.”
Oklahoma’s Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, opposed Question 820 based on a curious mixture of arguments. Last month he said legalizing recreational use was “a bad idea” because cannabis is still prohibited by federal la
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