Oklahoma voters Tuesday rejected a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in the state amid turmoil caused by the introduction of medical dispensaries.
The initiative, State Question 820, would have legalized marijuana in Oklahoma, which is already saturated with numerous, often unregulated medical dispensaries; however, residents voted against the initiative by roughly 63% to 38%, according to The New York Times. Criminal justice reform advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Yes on 820 campaign supported the initiative, with the Yes on 820 campaign pouring $5 million into the effort.
“This election isn’t about whether or not Oklahoma will have marijuana. Marijuana is here. It’s about what we’re going to do about it,” Ryan Kiesel, a spokesman for the Yes on 820 campaign, told the NYT.
Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, alongside numerous other Republican state lawmakers, law enforcement and agricultural associations, opposed the bill, according to the NYT.
“The reason I think it’s a bad idea is that it’s still illegal federally. I think marijuana is bad for young people. I think people need to understand the side effects of that,” Stitt said last month.
Recreational marijuana legalization goes down in flames in Oklahoma. pic.twitter.com/CJ19Jfb572
— Ryan James Girdusky (@RyanGirdusky) March 8, 2023
Johnny Teehee, police chief of Muskogee, Oklahoma, said he is completely overwhelmed with the transformation medical marijuana has brought to his city, according to Politico. Grow houses have taken over what used to be the central post office, and multi-acre weed farms are piping up beside peoples property.
The city of 37,000 residents where the median household income is $40,000 is now home to 47 licensed medical dispensaries and 78 grow operations, according to Politico. So many grow houses and dispensaries have opened up that Teehee can not properly investigate if they are legal.
“It’s an absolute nightmare. It’s a different world today, without a doubt.” Teehee told Politico. “I’ve seen it; I know what it is. I know that marijuana does nothing but lead to other drugs.”
Medical dispensaries and enforcement issues have brought illegal marijuana operations to much of Oklahoma, according to The Oklahoman. In February 2022, the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) led the largest marijuana-related bust in Oklahoma history on multiple marijuana operations across the state.
The raid, conducted by over 200 officers, targeted black market marijuana being trafficked in and out of the state, according to The Oklahoman. “Oklahoma is not a safe haven for criminals who think they can hide behind a medical marijuana license,” OBN Director Donnie Anderson said following the raid.
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