Oklahoma nearly became state number 22 to legalize cannabis. But on Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly rejected State Question 820, which would have legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older, and given regulators six months to roll out a regulatory framework for sales.
The campaign behind Oklahoma’s legalization measure initially had its eyes on the November 2022 midterm elections, during which voters in Maryland and Missouri legalized adult use while voters in three other states, including Oklahoma’s neighbor Arkansas, rejected it. However, while the campaign had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, time ran out due to other specific requirements. As a result, in October, Gov. Kevin Stitt called for the March 7 special election.
That same month, Stitt voiced his opposition to the measure. “It is still illegal federally,” Stitt said at the time. “We should not have a checkerboard of jurisdiction across the states.”
The vote came in with 62% of voters rejecting the measure.
“Oklahomans rejected SQ 820. I believe this is the best thing to keep our kids safe and for our state as a whole,” Stitt said. “I remain committed to protecting Oklahomans and my administration will continue to hold bad actors accountable and crack down on illegal marijuana operations.”
Stitt has been pushing for tightening controls around the state’s medical cannabis industry, which quickly became unwieldy after voters approved it at the ballot box in 2018.
After voters rejected legalization in the special election, Ryan Kiesel, a senior advisor for the campaign and an author of the measure, highlighted that nearly 400,000 Oklahomans already consume cannabis. Kiesel also continued the push for retroactive expungement and “an end to marijuana arrests.”
“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,” Kiesel said in a statement. “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.”
Today, Oklahoma has issued far more medical cannabis business licenses than any other state. There are, for example, just under 8,000 growers and nearly 3,000 shops. The only state that has issued a comparable number of total licenses is California, a state with ten times the population of Oklahoma, and those licenses are for a fully legal adult use industry.
In August, Oklahoma regulators put a moratorium on new licenses, and under State Question 820, only existing medical cannabis license holders would have been eligible to participate in the adult use industry for now. Adult use sales would have been subject to a 15% excise tax, on top of the state sales tax, and localities were not able to opt out of allowing adult use businesses.
The campaign raised more than $3 million.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include the final vote and statements from Gov. Stitt’s and an author of the campaign.