Oklahoma Voters Reject Recreational Pot Legalization Initiative

Oklahoma voters rejected a recreational marijuana legalization initiative, which gained the support of only 38% of the state’s electorate.
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Voters in Oklahoma on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state that already has one of the nation’s most robust medical marijuana programs. Supporters of State Question 820, however, vow to continue the effort to legalize cannabis for adults in Oklahoma.

“Our mission from the very start has been about making a more prosperous, just and safer state,” Yes on 820 campaign director Michelle Tilley said in a statement after the results of Tuesday’s election became apparent. “We are moms and dads who want more revenue in our schools, more resources for law enforcement, and more jobs and investment in communities across the state. Unfortunately, tonight we fell short.”

Oklahoma voters defeated the legalization initiative by a solid margin, with nearly 62% opposed and only 38% voting in favor as of Wednesday morning, with more than 95% of votes counted in all 77 of the state’s counties, according to information from The New York Times. The defeat came following strong opposition from law enforcement groups and Republican politicians including Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. 

Oklahoma Supporters Vow To Continue Legalization Effort

Supporters of SQ 820 had originally planned for the ballot measure to appear before voters during last year’s presidential election, but delays in certifying the measure prevented the initiative from being included on the ballot in November. In October, Stitt announced that voters would go to the polls on March 7 for a special election to vote on the measure.

Brian Vicente, founding partner at the cannabis law firm Vicente LLP and a member of the Yes on 820 campaign’s steering committee, said that the failure of the ballot measure to gain approval at the polls on Tuesday is not the end of cannabis policy reform efforts in Oklahoma, where voters legalized medical marijuana in 2018.

“With a March special election and no other issues on the ballot, we knew from the beginning this would be an uphill battle,” Vicente wrote in an email to High Times. “The results still demonstrate there is significant support for legalizing and regulating cannabis for adult use, and we expect it to continue growing until a similar measure passes in the near future. Overcoming a century of anti-marijuana propaganda is no simple task, and there is still work to be done.”

Had it passed, SQ 820 would have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older and established a regulatory framework for commercial production and sales of recreational marijuana. The measure also included provisions to allow those with past convictions for some marijuana offenses to petition the courts to have their criminal record expunged. Yes on 820 campaign senior advisor Ryan Kiesel, who helped draft the ballot language, said that the defeat of the measure will continue Oklahoma’s disproportionate enforcement of marijuana prohibition.

“We have thousands of families being torn apart and thrown into chaos every year because a mom or a dad has a small amount of marijuana that would be legal in 21 other states and legal in Oklahoma for medical card holders,” said Kiesel. “Furthermore, the enforcement of Oklahoma’s marijuana laws has historically been deeply slanted against Black Oklahomans, who are much more likely to be arrested than their White counterparts. We must continue to work to end these unjust and wasteful arrests and to give people who do have arrests or convictions on their records the tools to seek expungement and start with a clean slate.”

Jeffrey M. Zucker, co-founder and president of cannabis consulting firm Green Lion Partners and the vice chair of the board of directors of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), promised more work to end cannabis prohibition in the Sooner State.

“Today’s decision in Oklahoma is heartbreaking, especially considering how many challenges this bill faced before it got to the ballot and how much work advocates put in,” Zucker said in a statement. “We have a long way to go to undo the damage of the war on drugs, especially in a state where more than 4500 people are arrested annually for cannabis possession.”

Tuesday’s defeat of SQ 820 continues a string of setbacks for the cannabis policy reform movement in traditionally conservative states. In the November general election, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota voted against recreational marijuana ballot measures, while similar proposals succeeded in Maryland and Missouri.

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