What is State Question 820?

An election to decide whether recreational cannabis will be legalized in Oklahoma will be held on Tuesday, March 7.

Oklahoma State Question 820 (SQ 820) would create a state law to legalize recreational cannabis in the state for anyone over 21 years of age. Marijuana use and possession would remain a crime under federal law, and the export of marijuana from Oklahoma would be prohibited.

The law would set the recreational cannabis tax rate at 15%, with about 30% of the revenue going to public school programs to address substance abuse and improve students retention, another 30% to the General Revenue Fund, 20% to drug addiction treatment programs, 10% to the courts, and 10% to local government.

The law would limit certain marijuana- related conduct and would establish quantity limits, safety standards, restrictions, and penalties for violations. A local government may prohibit or restrict recreational marijuana use on the property of local government and regulate the time, place, and manner of operation of marijuana businesses within its boundaries. However, a local government may not limit the number of, or completely prohibit, such businesses. Persons who occupy, own, or control private property may prohibit or regulate marijuana-related conduct except that a lease agreement may not prohibit a tenant from lawfully possessing and consuming marijuana by means other than smoking.

The law does not affect an employer’s ability to restrict employee marijuana use. It also does not affect the rights of medical marijuana patients or licensees.

For the first two years, marijuana business licenses are available only to existing licensees in operation one year or more.

The law would also allow for some marijuana drug offenders to have their convictions reversed and records expunged, unless the State proves an unreasonable risk to a person.

Additionally, medical marijuana would continue to be offered to those with a medical marijuana card, and products sold for medical purposes would continue to be taxed at 7% plus local sales tax.

It would also allow individuals to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, six mature marijuana plants, and six seedlings.

Supporters1 for the passage of SQ 820 have argued that the state stands to gain millions of dollars from the 15% excise tax on recreational sales, in addition to the 7% tax collected from medical sales. They also say that the passing of SQ 820 would make access to marijuana for medical purposes easier; it would cut down on the number of simple arrests for simple offenses and free up government to focus on other issues; and it would assist those saddled with a marijuana-related charges to clean their records.

SQ 820 opponents2, however, fear that the bill’s passage would hurt law enforcement efforts to crack down on illegal grow operations, encourage more violence related to the black market activities, and would not address foreign ownership of Oklahoma land and the excess use of water and electricity for the grow facilities.

The Ponca City News reached out to both a local dispensary and a local law enforcement agency to gauge opinions on the state question.

For SQ 820

Austin Horton and Dace Sherman are owners of Leaf Kings Dispensary in Ponca City. Both approached coming to the industry in different ways with Sherman having a background in farming, and Horton using cannabis medicinally years. Leaf Kings will often receive between 100 and 115 patients on a normal day, depending on the current market.

“For me it was the plants. I enjoy growing things, I have a background in farming on an industrial scale. So the plants are what attracted me to the industry,” said Sherman.

Horton is a heavy believer in the medicinal value and benefits of cannabis and says that combating the stereotypes has been a goal of his.

“I like helping people, and there is a large stigma that surrounds cannabis from years and years of being something that was criminal,” said Horton. “It’s developed a really strong statement about laziness, or what people stereotype as a ‘pothead’; I’ve kind of set out to fight that stigma and that stereotype and show that people who ingest cannabis aren’t just lazy lowlifes who live on their parents’ couch. It is business men and women, it’s the working class, it’s way more people than you can imagine.”

As for how SQ 820 would affect their business, both Horton and Sherman agree that the law could use some work in its language, but overall think it would be beneficial to their business and for patients.

“I think it would be a positive impact in some sense, and also a negative impact in some sense. From my understanding of the law, as far as the medicinal side of things go, we’re going to be able to maintain the guidelines we have to run our facility,” said Horton. “None of that will change…but in the same hand, I look at other recreational states and you see how…once they hit rec, things change.”

Dispensaries are already under heavy regulations from the state government, and the implementation of systems such as Metrc, have made running a legal businesses harder and more expensive. Metrc is a provider of cannabis regulator systems in the United States and was chosen by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) in 2020 to serve as the state’s seed-to-sale tracking system for cannabis.

“The implementation of Metrc made things more difficult, it was a necessary need to regulate the industry to make everybody play by the same rules. What it did was make legal businesses much, much harder and more expensive,” said Sherman. “We have to buy plant tags, we have to buy package tags, we have to pay monthly fees. There is a lot that goes on with Metrc that not everybody sees, and in turn, we have the extra costs that in turn affect our patients. We try to always put our patients first, we always try to give the best prices possible because we believe in it as a medicine. Not anything else.”

There was also enthusiasm for the state question providing a second chance for those that have a record due to marijuana possession.

“That’s what excited me for the recreational bill. That there is the option for people to go back and appeal those decisions and in some cases even get them expunged,” said Horton. “I don’t think anyone should serve jail time or be a felon for the rest of their life because they had some cannabis on them.”

The biggest worry that Sherman and Horton held in regard to the passing of SQ 820 was the ability of large corporations to come in after the law’s two year period. The primary concern being that these corporations would negatively impact the smaller dispensaries.

“That is a concern of some smaller mom and pop shops like us,” said Sherman. “But I think for the greater good, for the patients, I think [SQ 820] is a great thing.”

“On the negative side of things, I would be concerned if big pharma was able to get involved, or if big tobacco was able to get involved,” said Horton. “Us versus these multi-billion dollar corporations is like Walmart versus any of the home-style delis that use to exist. That’s the fear that comes with it, especially once it comes to a federal level, then those big companies are even more apt.”

Both also cited that regardless of how the state question fairs in the election, the black market would likely remain around as long as there are those that want to buy and sell illegally.

“I guess the illegal market is always going to be a thing until it’s not illegal,” said Sherman.

Ultimately, both agree that there will be growth in the business, and that increased accessibility would lead more people to want to try cannabis, and they would likely come to a dispensary where they can get marijuana in a safe environment with products that have been tested and regulated for human consumption.

“If it is legalized, that makes me excited for how much business we could be getting,” said Horton. “And there’s people who could use cannabis and have serious medicinal value to them. There’s instances like that too that make me very excited just to think about how we can possibly help people who, right now, are scared of getting help or aren’t in a position to afford getting help.”

Against SQ 820

Kay County Sheriff Steve Kelley shared some information on how law enforcement has dealt with the passing of medical marijuana and in combating the illegal grow operations.

“I had my concerns [when they passed medical marijuana], I went public and voiced my concerns on how that was going to affect not only law enforcement, but the infrastructure in Kay County, and the black market in marijuana,” said Sheriff Kelley. “And sure enough we’ve ran into some of those problems. Especially these last three years.”

Sheriff Kelley also provided information on the number of grow operations and retail stores in Oklahoma and in Kay County: – Licensed grow operations in Oklahoma: 7,088 – Licensed grow operations in Kay County: 94 – Licensed retail stores in Oklahoma: 2,874 – Licensed retail stores in Kay County: 26 “The major problems we have [with the grow operations] as the Sheriff’s Office is that we don’t have the authority to regulate those grow operations,” said Sheriff Kelley. “Since medical marijuana has started, there have only been three grow operations in Kay County that we have served a search warrant to.”

Currently, only the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) has jurisdiction over regulating marijuana in the state. On matters of marijuana, law enforcement has only been able to act if there is apparent criminal activity involved.

“My suggestion has always been, ‘why not give the Sheriff’s Office the authority to raid these grow operations?’ But it goes on deaf ears every time I talk about it,” said Sheriff Kelley. “Last year they passed legislation to take the [OMMA] out of the umbrella of the health department. They also passed legislation that they would set aside $5 million to give to the 77 sheriffs in the state of Oklahoma to help combat the illegal marijuana grows. We haven’t seen a dime of that money yet.”

The latter bill Sheriff Kelley refers to was HB 35303, which would create a yearlong grant program funded by $5 million from the OMMA budget.

“But even $5 million for 77 sheriffs, you’re talking $65,000 to $68,000 per sheriff. That’s going to get you one deputy and the equipment and training,” said Sheriff Kelley. “It’s too dangerous to be sending one person to these grow operations. Some of them are heavily armed.”

It was in November of 2022 that a man, Chen Wu, was arrested in connection with the killing of four Chinese nationals at a grow operation in Kingfisher County4.

“We’re going to have more of that. It wouldn’t shock me at all if we have some other deaths out there that we don’t know about,” said Sheriff Kelley of the murders in Kingfisher. “Chinese nationals are set up with other organized crimes, organized syndicates.”

Another issue has been marijuana being shipped out of Oklahoma and to surrounding states. This has made Oklahoma the leading source of illegal marijuana nationwide5.

“The amount of grow operations we have in the state of Oklahoma, and the amount that they grow…you simply cannot smoke enough marijuana. So we know it’s going outside the state of Oklahoma,” said Sheriff Kelley. “Each person in the state of Oklahoma would have to smoke almost 400 pounds of marijuana. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that all that weed is not staying in the state of Oklahoma.”

Other worries from Sheriff Kelley included changes to the threshold for child endangerment.

“We feel that it is going to hurt our children. DHS makes home visits because someone calls and says, ‘my husband does nothing but sit around and smoke marijuana all day long inside the house. And he has my two children.’ There is nothing we can do about that,” said Sheriff Kelley. “There’s nothing that restricts someone from smoking all the weed they want to inside their house in front of their kids.”

Sheriff Kelley hopes that voters will read the bill in detail and become educated and informed before voting yes or no.

“Is [SQ 820] going to generate a lot of money? Yeah, but I think with all the black market that will be coming out and people growing their own plants, I don’t know how we’re going to tax that,” said Sheriff Kelley.

The bill in its entirety can be read at www. sos.ok.gov/documents/questions/820.pdf.

Early voting begins Thursday, March 2, 2023 The election will be held on Tuesday, March 7.


1. https://www.yeson820.com/faq/ 2. https://www.no820.org/about 3. https://www.news9.com/story/623d472219328 80194e57e07/oklahoma-house-passes-billto- have-deputies-partner-with-marijuanabusiness- inspectors-4. https://apnews.com/article/businessshootings- marijuana-homicide-oklahoma-f69 22f0e9b96cac4b25867bf698be6e9 5. https://www.wsj.com/articles/oklahomahas- become-a-top-source-of-black-marketweed- 11671990991

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