A recent report from Tulsa World states that according to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (OBNDD), there are a couple thousand unlicensed medical cannabis businesses in the state. “We’ve got close to 2,000 under investigation,” said Mark Woodward, with the Public Information Office at OBNDD. “We’re working with our partners to identify the criminal networks involved.”
Woodward also commented that many of these licenses have been linked to illegal activity. Recently in December 2022, four people were killed “execution style” at a cannabis cultivation facility in Kingfisher County, which is located northwest of Oklahoma City. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, the owners of the facility had a medical cultivation license, but OBNDD agents believe that the license was obtained illegally.
Woodward said that those working at illegal cultivation sites are often foreign nationals. “The only thing it did was it shined a light on something we’ve been saying for the last four years,” Woodward said. “It’s the same violent criminal organizations.”
He added that 200 operations have been closed by local law enforcement so far, but the OBNDD is trying to track the source of criminal activity. But until that investigation yields results, Woodward believes that Oklahoma’s medical cannabis industry will continue to suffer. “Something not talked about much is that the legitimate industry is bleeding to death,” Woodward added.
Last year in March, people impersonating police officers performed fake search warrants at numerous cannabis cultivation sites, stealing 100 pounds of cannabis, as well as machines, cash, and cell phones. At the time, Woodward commented on the attacks on cannabis businesses due to the fact that cannabis is still federally illegal, and are forced to mainly deal in cash.
“These farms where there are oftentimes Chinese workers who don’t speak English—they won’t recognize traditional law enforcement,” Woodward told High Times. “They’re not familiar with what Oklahoma law enforcement or what uniforms might look like or what a fraudulent warrant looks like compared to legitimate ones. And so these criminals count on that. That’s why they targeted these specific farms. They saw it as an easy opportunity to take advantage of these workers and hit the farm and take product.”
Tulsa World shared that some people, such as 3rd District Congressman Frank Lucas, along with 20 other congress members, sent a letter in July 2022 to U.S. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the purchase of Oklahoma land by foreign parties. According to the letter, foreign land ownership increased “from 13,720 to 352,140 acres between 2010 and 2020.”
“We are alarmed by the pace at which Chinese companies have been purchasing U.S. agricultural land in recent years. Given this trend, we want to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has the reporting tools necessary to provide Americans with the fullest possible picture of all foreign purchases of United States land,” the letter stated.
In December 2021, there were 9,400 licensed medical cannabis cultivators. One year later in December 2022 revealed a reduction to 7,086 licenses. Currently, there is a moratorium on new licenses, which went into effect in August 2022 and will end sometime around August 2024.
Medical cannabis was legalized through a voter initiative in 2018, but the state’s low cost of entry (only $2,500 annually) for a cannabis license opened the doors to out-of-state parties. A newer bill, House Bill 2179, was later passed by the governor in May 2022 to increase the annual fees based on the size of a facility or a dispensary’s sales. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, this doesn’t go into effect until June 1, 2023.
Although there have been numerous attempts to reign in illegal cannabis activity in Oklahoma, advocates are looking at March to legalize recreational cannabis. Gov. Kevin Stitt set March 7 as the date for a special election where the voter initiative will appear. If passed, State Question 820 would legalize adult-use cannabis and allow cannabis cultivation and sales.
“After all the delays caused by the new signature count process, we are excited to finally be on the ballot on March 7, 2023, so that Oklahomans can experience the benefits of the State Question without further delay,” said Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Law Campaign Director Michelle Tilley. “We are grateful the voices of over 164,000 Oklahomans who signed the petition and want to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana for adults in Oklahoma have been heard.”
Originally it was set to appear in the November 2022 ballot, but the submitted signatures were not certified in time.