Oklahoma voters go to polls on adult-use cannabis measure

By Steve Gelsi

Oklahoma could become the 22nd U.S. state to allow adult use of cannabis

Oklahoma voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to allow adults 21 and over to buy and consume cannabis. If the measure passes, the state will become the 22nd in the U.S. to legalize pot for adult use.

The vote on State Question 820 is taking place on an executive order from Gov. Kevin Stitt.

With just over 4 million people and 2.2 million registered voters, Oklahoma is the 28th-largest U.S. state by population. Although it’s a politically conservative state, it has one of the largest per capita medical-cannabis programs in the U.S., with about 369,000 patients, as well as 7,100 growers, 2,877 dispensaries and 1,828 processors.

In 2021, industry publication MJ Biz reported that Oklahoma had the largest number of dispensaries among all U.S. states, and that the Sooner State offered the “most unfettered medical cannabis market in the country.”

Oklahoma has no cap on the number of state licenses it issues in the cannabis business and no list of qualifying medical conditions to become a medical patient.

Arshad Lasi, CEO of the Nirvana Group, a cannabis cultivator, processor and medical-dispensary operator in Oklahoma, said he’s optimistic that the measure will pass.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the market eventually stabilize and open up opportunities for newcomers and legacy operators alike to engage in the licensed recreational industry,” Lasi said in an email to MarketWatch.

The governor said in a press conference last month that he opposes the measure.

“The big reason for me is, number one, it’s illegal federally,” Stitt said, according to a report by the Oklahoman. “There shouldn’t be a patchwork of states doing different things. We need to let the feds tell us if it’s legal or illegal, we shouldn’t let the states tell us that. And then secondly, we already have medical [cannabis] to meet the medical needs of Oklahomans that need this as a drug.”

The measure was originally planned for the November ballot after a group called Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws collected 164,000 signatures, but it was pulled due to a delay in verifying those signatures. Oklahoma voters approved medical cannabis in 2018.

State Question 820, in addition to legalizing adult-use cannabis, would introduce a 15% excise tax on recreational-use sales, on top of applicable sales taxes, to fund implementation of the law.

Any surplus revenue will go toward public-school programs that address substance abuse and improve student retention, and to the state’s general revenue fund and drug-addiction treatment programs.

Along with Oklahoma, several other states have been making moves toward legalization of cannabis, including fresh proposals in the Pennsylvania legislature as well as a campaign to get adult use on the ballot in Florida. North Carolina recently moved closer to introducing a medical-cannabis program, with lawmakers in the state Senate granting initial approval to a bill.

In Pennsylvania, state Rep. David M. Delloso, a Democrat, introduced a cannabis-legalization measure on Feb. 27. He pointed out that in 2017, police arrested more than 27,000 Pennsylvania residents for cannabis possession and the state spent about $46 million to prosecute people for that crime.

Maryland and Missouri are currently rolling out adult-use programs after voters OK’d measures in both states in November.

On the federal level, cannabis legalization remains mostly dead in the water after the federal SAFE Banking bill failed to come to a vote in the U.S. Senate during the recent lame-duck session.

Congress did pass a cannabis research bill last year, which may eventually result in more data on the plant and its health effects. President Joe Biden said in October that he wants to review the Schedule I designation of cannabis under the Controlled Substance Act.

Also read: Federal spotlight shifts to regulatory rescheduling of cannabis

-Steve Gelsi

 

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03-07-23 1459ET

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