The fact that Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization may not be huge news. They are far from the first state that did not approve legalization measures. But experts feel this may be a sign of things to come. It could be that the movement is in trouble.
Is the Fact That Oklahoma Rejects Marijuana Legalization a Sign that the Movement is in Trouble?
Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization in a resounding loss. 62% of voters were against legalizing cannabis as compared to 38% in favor.
This comes on the heels of three other states also voting against legalization, these being North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas. This shows that recreational marijuana is still facing strong opposition, especially in conservative states.
Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization comes as a surprise as the state’s voters seemed to back legalization for years. In 2018, local voters backed cannabis measures with roughly 12,000 licensed medical marijuana facilities and nearly 400,000 patients in a state with less than four million residents earning it the nickname “Tokelahoma”.
But the latest result showing Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization backs the fact that the majority of residents aren’t interested in expanding the industry. This is largely due to the police seemingly raiding a new illegal grow operation in the state every week.
Meanwhile, 21 states have legalized recreational marijuana while 37 have approved some form of legalization statutes. However, weed remains illegal on the federal level.
Supporters Still Optimistic
Despite the fact that Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization, supporters remain optimistic. Voters in states like Arizona and Missouri originally voted down marijuana but supported it years later. Advocates feel the same could occur in Oklahoma and other states.
“We’ve been used to losing for many years, and it’s something we don’t forget. We’re gonna see support continue to grow, and we have seen it grow over the past decades,” said Morgan Fox, political director at NORML, a nonprofit that advocates marijuana use.
Opponents Are Also Optimistic
While supporters are hopeful that Okalhoma will change its tune, opponents are seeing Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization as a point for their team. Luke Niforatos, executive vice president at Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which is opposed to legalized marijuana, see it as a signal for his organization to become more ambitious.
Efforts include pushing to get the repeal of marijuana legalization on the ballot in other states and pushing for reforms such as limits on marijuana potency with an aim of marijuana being “treated like tobacco”.
“I think we’re reaching a fever pitch in terms of the harms of these new marijuana products and the overreach of the industry. I think what we’re seeing is a backlash to industry overreach, a backlash to an industry that is targeting kids with child-friendly products, an industry that is advertising everywhere just like Big Tobacco did. I think people in Oklahoma were really sick of that,” Niforatos said.
Marijuana Legalization Obstacles in Oklahoma and Other States
So what was the reasoning behind Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization? Experts feel Oklahoma and other states that voted against legalization did so due to overwhelmingly conservative sensibilities.
While marijuana support has grown over the last few years, statistics show that conservatives are less likely to support marijuana legalization. This is particularly true of recreational marijuana.
An October 2022 Pew Research Center poll found that 45% of Republicans supported legalizing recreational marijuana while 39% supported only medical marijuana. This compares to 59% of all U.S. adults who supported legalizing recreational marijuana and 30% who supported legalizing medical marijuana only.
The vote also faced challenges as it was conducted during a special election which draws more older and conservative voters who are more likely to be opposed to the measure.
There are several political leaders and conservative organizations that may have swayed the vote causing Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization. That includes Governor Kevin Stitt who said a vote against legalization was “the best thing to keep our kids safe and for our state as a whole”.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau also supported the Oklahoma rejects marijuana legalization movement describing the ballot as a threat to rural communities and blaming the marijuana industry for creating “a strain on our rural electric and rural water utilities”.
The activist group Oklahoma Faith Leaders spoke out against the ballot claiming the marijuana industry led to “foreign nationals including Chinese, Mexicans, and Russians purchasing Oklahoma farmland illegally bringing in labor and sex trafficking.”
Some feel the Oklahoma marijuana industry may have been a victim of its own success. After medical marijuana was legalized in 2018, the state did not impose a cap on licenses. Furthermore, acquiring a license and setting up a marijuana business is cheaper in Oklahoma than it is in other states with legalized cannabis.
Niforatos noted that the Oklahoma program made it easy for people to buy marijuana for recreational purposes despite current legislation.
Fox said that new businesses flooded the state far outnumbering compliance officers. Although the state later passed a two-year moratorium on new licenses for growers, dispensaries, and processing companies, it may have been a case of ‘too little too late’.
“They made a lot of mistakes during implementation and through enforcement and I think that that has certainly resonated with voters. But that’s something that advocates in Oklahoma can learn from,” Fox said.
Niforatos said that his organization is “going to be more on the offensive” when it comes to regulating the Oklahoma industry and rescinding legalization throughout the country.
“Most American states have not legalized marijuana. The President of the United States is against the legalization of marijuana, and neither major party has the legalization of marijuana in either of its platforms. So we are very far away from anything being inevitable,” Niforatos said.