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Oklahoma voters reject recreational marijuana

  A cannabis plant at Sacred Herb Dispensary in Sapulpa, Okla.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
A cannabis plant at Sacred Herb Dispensary in Sapulpa, Okla.

Recreational cannabis won’t be legal in Oklahoma.

Voters resoundingly shot down State Question 820, which would have made recreational pot legal in the state.

The vote comes as legal marijuana grow operations and dispensaries have budded throughout Oklahoma in the wake of medical marijuana legalization nearly five years ago. There are more than 7,000 growers, 2,800 dispensaries and 369,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

But there are also concerns about the industry in rural Oklahoma, where voters firmly rejected it. Special election results show roughly 60% of voters in the state cast their ballot against approving recreational marijuana. But in rural counties, those percentages were generally even higher.

"We are obviously pleased with the results,” Vote No campaign spokesman Pat McFerron said. “We think this sends a clear message that Oklahomans oppose the unfettered access to marijuana we have experienced under our so-called medical program.”

The rejection was praised by Republican politicians who had asked voters not to pass the state question.

“I believe this is the best thing to keep our kids safe and for our state as a whole,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement. “I remain committed to protecting Oklahomans and my administration will continue to hold bad actors accountable and crack down on illegal marijuana operations.”

Attorney General Gentner Drummond wrote in a statement he is “proud of Oklahomans for rejecting the expansion of organized crime by defeating State Question 820.”

Cannabis business leaders said they’ll continue. Blake Cantrell, owner of the Peak Dispensary in Oklahoma City, had this advice for his fellow operators.

"Stick it out,” he said. “Because while this doesn't help us directly, as it would have if it were to pass, it also doesn't directly hurt us."

The state question was on an unusual ballot, appearing in March after signature verification was delayed. It was the only item on the ballot for voters to consider.

But people who worked for the campaign to legalize marijuana were defiant. Leaders say they’re going to continue to propose measures to decriminalize marijuana in Oklahoma. Michelle Tilley was the campaign manager for State Question 820. At the Yes on 820 watch party in downtown Oklahoma City Tuesday night, she says this is an issue that Oklahoma voters of all kinds can agree on.

“This is just a matter of when change is coming,” Tilley said. “I'm proud of what we've done here because it has started a serious conversation about the injustices of the way that our policies are right now in the state.”

McFerron said he hopes it leads to reforms by Oklahoma lawmakers. Though not the same ones as his opponents on the vote yes campaign.

“It should be considered a strong message to the legislature that Oklahomans reject recreational marijuana,” McFerron said. “And that's really what we have with our current medical program. So I hope this gives them the ability and political cover to really make our medical program truly medical.”

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.
Copyright 2023 KGOU. To see more, visit KGOU.

Robby Korth joined StateImpact Oklahoma in October 2019, focusing on education reporting.
Kateleigh Mills joined KOSU in March 2018, following her undergraduate degree completion from the University of Central Oklahoma in December 2017.