Oklahoma voters strongly rejected a referendum to make recreational marijuana legal for anyone over the age of 21.
Just over 349,000 voters – 61.7% – voted against State Question 820 on March 7. The initiative was turned down by every county in the state.
“We’re pleased and excited that Oklahomans recognize the dangers of marijuana to our kids, to our families,” said Pat McFerron of Protect Our Kids NO 820 to KFOR. “What [voters] said was, we don’t want to go further. We’ve seen the ills of unfettered marijuana use in our state. We’ve heard those stories from other places, and we don’t want to travel down that road.”
In addition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, State Question 820 would have cleared a path for people previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes to apply for resentencing or to have their criminal records reversed, modified or expunged.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Oklahoma in June of 2018 following a two-year campaign led by legalization advocates.
“Under the proposed law, a two-year medical marijuana license would allow someone to possess up to 8 ounces of marijuana, six mature plants and six seedlings, along with edibles and concentrated forms of the drug,” per CNBC.
About 10% of adults in Oklahoma have their medical marijuana license.
McFerron and other opponents of full legalization cited concerns included law enforcement agencies, former government officials, mental health professionals, and school administrators. They argued legalizing marijuana would harm residents and increase the social welfare challenges.
“The last thing I want to see is a stoned society. It makes no sense to me to open the floodgates and permit a substance as destructive to health, wealth and welfare as legalization of recreational marijuana,” said former Governor Frank Keating at a rally on March 7, per The Oklahoman. “It’s something that we as a society need to say, ‘enough is enough.’ We’ve had medical marijuana, and we don’t need people face-down in the streets.”
Advocates for the proposal say claims like Keating’s are inaccurate and that the state would benefit from recreational marijuana by reducing the legal burden for both police officers and residents. Almost $5 million were spent on a pro-State Question 820 campaign in the lead-up to the vote.
Ryan Kiesel, a senior adviser for the Yes on 820 campaign, argued at the same rally that marijuana is fully legal in 21 other states already.
“These are the same ‘Reefer Madness’ tactics that we have seen in every recreational campaign across the country,” said Kiesel. “The difference is that they have fewer ruined lives by people going into the criminal justice system, fewer wasted law enforcement resources by having to police small amounts of marijuana and more money going into schools, health care and substance abuse treatment, which is exactly what these folks are asking for.”
According to a November 2022 report from the Pew Research Center, 88% of American adults believe marijuana should be legal. More adults (59%) believe the substance should be legal for both medical and recreational use than adults (30%) who believe only medical marijuana should be legal. Only 10% of adults opposed all forms of marijuana legalization.
Following the ‘no’ vote, advocates for full legalization in Oklahoma will need to get 288,321 signatures – the equivalent to 25% of the tidal votes cast for the governor in the last election – to have the issue appear on the ballot during the next election. Otherwise, the ballot measure cannot be raised for another three years.