About Oklahoma Voters Rejecting the Recreational Marijuana Legalization Initiative

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In a Tuesday statewide Oklahoma election, State Question 820 that would have legalized recreational marijuana in Oklahoma was rejected when 62 percent of votes were cast against it.

Why did this initiative fail, and fail by such a large margin, when recreational marijuana legalization has been approved by voters in many other states?

One reason for the big “no” vote on the ballot measure may be found in the fact that it was voted on during a special election with very low voter turnout. The Oklahoma State Election Board put the turnout in the election at 25.35 percent for this election where most voters had just one thing on their ballots — the marijuana initiative. In contrast, in the November of 2022 midterm general election featuring ballots filled with state and US congressional candidates, voter turnout came in a little over 50 percent — about twice what it was on Tuesday.

Petitioning for the ballot measure had been conducted in an effort to put the ballot measure before voters in that relatively high voter turnout general election. But, in late October of 2022, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, who has been an opponent of State Question 820, decreed that it would be voted on in a special election. Stitt made this announcement after the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided the ballot measure could not be placed on the general election ballot due to delay in the state government’s verification of petition signatures.

How would State Question 820 have done in the general election? We don’t know. But, it would be interesting to see another legalization ballot measure considered in Oklahoma during a general election to find out how the numbers can come out when voter turnout is much higher.

In the meantime, as Jacob Sullum explains in an informative Wednesday article at Reason concerning the vote on State Question 820, adults in Oklahoma can continue to use marijuana under the relatively accommodating recreational marijuana program voters in the state approved five years back.  Sullum writes:

Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program, which is open to adults 18 or older, does not have a list of qualifying conditions, relying instead on physician discretion. As of August 2021, about 376,000 Oklahoma patients—12 percent of the adult population—had active licenses. According to survey results published last year, the conditions most commonly reported by licensees were anxiety (43 percent), depression (33 percent), sleep problems (27 percent), chronic pain (24 percent), and arthritis (13 percent).

The liberality of Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program helps explain why the state has so many licensed growers (nearly 8,000) and dispensaries (more than 2,600). By comparison, Colorado, with a population about 46 percent larger, has between 700 and 800 stores selling medical and/or recreational marijuana.

“Medical marijuana in Oklahoma,” further states Sullum, “is strikingly cheap and accessible, thanks largely to fast application approvals, low license fees, light regulation, and modest taxes.”

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