Oklahoma voters reject legalized recreational marijuana | Oklahoma

Oklahoma voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana use by people over the age of 21, a setback for advocates who have seen the conservative state embrace access to the drug for medicinal purposes.

Across Oklahoma, 2,890 licenses have been approved for medical marijuana businesses. Oklahoma City, the state capital, is home to more than 400 dispensaries.

But as of Tuesday night, in a state where 10% of residents own a medical marijuana card and with 90% of ballots counted, 63% of Oklahoma voters rejected the proposal to legalize recreational use.

Despite growing support among younger Republicans, voters in a number of conservative-dominated states have recently blocked efforts to expand legalization beyond the 21 states that currently allow recreational use. Across the US, 37 states approve medicinal use.

In 2018, Oklahoma voters approved the expansion of medical marijuana by a 14-point margin. But the Republican governor, Kevin Stitt, other politicians and law enforcement groups have pushed back against the expansion of recreational use. Last year, state lawmakers approved a moratorium of new medical marijuana business licenses for two years.

Legalization supporters have pointed to tax revenue that could come from recreational use. But they worried low turnout would hamper their efforts.

Ryan Kiesel, a spokesman for the Yes on 820 campaign, told the New York Times the state needed to legalize marijuana, given residents without medical cards have been arrested and punished for possession.

“This election isn’t about whether or not Oklahoma will have marijuana,” Kiesel said. “Marijuana is here. It’s about what we’re going to do about it.”

Damion Shade, executive director of Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, pointed to state data that showed Black men were five times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white men, making legalization a racial justice issue.

Writing for the Black Wall Street Times, Shade noted that “the criminalization of marijuana has disproportionately burdened Black communities in Oklahoma”, resulting in Black people facing higher rates of arrests, convictions and imprisonment.

The measure would have let people who have marijuana possession on their criminal records pursue expunging them and let those imprisoned petition to have their sentences reduced or thrown out.

“I am a Black Oklahoman who recognizes that the 50-year so-called ‘war on drugs’ has been an abject failure that was deliberately designed to criminalize and target Black communities, and the criminalization of marijuana was a big part of that perverse strategy,” Shade wrote.

“Ending Oklahoma’s prohibition on marijuana is an important step towards eliminating racial disparities in this state.”

Opponents framed legalization as a threat to children, even though the measure would have legalized the drug only for adults.

In a statement, Stitt said Oklahoma was a “law and order state” that would “continue to hold bad actors accountable and crack down on illegal marijuana operations”.

“I believe this is the best thing to keep our kids safe and for our state as a whole,” he said.

Voters have also rejected recreational use proposals in Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota. The exception among Republican-led states has been Missouri, where in November voters approved a constitutional amendment to allow recreational use.

In Maryland, residents over 21 will be allowed to have up to 1.5oz in their possession starting in July, after voters approved a state referendum in November.

The measure also created an outlet for people arrested for possession to expunge their criminal records and those in prison for simple possession to have their sentences reconsidered. It also established a state business aid fund to support small businesses, including women- and people of color-owned cannabis businesses.

On Tuesday, the legalization advocate Lawrence Pasternack told Politico: “The anti-revolutionary forces want to return Oklahoma to their dream of this bygone era. They see marijuana as anathema to that dream.”

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