The 411 on SQ 820: Local Dispensaries Divided on Recreational Legalization

Oklahoma voters went to the polls in 2018 and voted to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana, which is scientifically known as cannabis. However, it remains illegal for recreational use.

On Tuesday, March 7th, voters will cast their ballots to approve or reject making the recreational use of cannabis legal in Oklahoma.

If SQ820 passes, any adult who is at least 21 years old would be able to purchase cannabis for recreational use from licensed dispensaries. It would allow individuals to possess no more than 8 ounces of marijuana, 6 mature marijuana plants, and 6 seedling plants. One of the provisions of SQ 820 will put in place a licensing process for recreational marijuana dispensaries, commercial growers, processors, and transporters. Furthermore, it directs the State of Oklahoma to establish rules for the preparation and labeling of Cannabis products within 90 days of becoming law.

SQ 820 does not circumvent the prohibition or regulation of cannabis use by businesses and employers. The proposed State question would not alter existing medical marijuana laws and regulations.The law also provides a “pathway” for courts to resentence, reverse, modify, and expunge specific prior marijuana-related convictions from one’s record. Under the provisions of this bill, prosecutors are prohibited from revoking bail, parole, or probation due to marijuana use.

A 15% excise tax will collected on each sale, with 30% going to public school programs that address substance abuse and improve student retention, 30% going to the General Revenue Fund, 20% going to drug rehab programs, 10% to the court system, and 10% going to local government.

What proponents say:

In a recent forum held at OU Tulsa, Executive Director of OK Justice Reform, Damion Shade, said, “What you need to know is there are thousands of Oklahomans with low level convictions, most of them black and brown like me. Legalizing marijuana would give them the same path to relief that my young, affluent, white friend who drove around Sapulpa with a joint in his mouth, but who had parents who could afford to get him a lawyer, and get him an expungement, so he could move on with his life. State Question 820 offers that same path to thousands of Oklahomans.”

Touting the impact adult recreational cannabis sales would have on the State of Oklahoma, Michelle Tilley of Yes on 820 alluded to study by a firm specializing in cannabis law.

Andrew Livingston, with Vicente Sederberg LLP, said: “Over the first 5 years of operation, our model projects that Oklahoma will raise more than $434.6 million in new revenue from the 15% excise tax from State Question 820 as well as other state and local sales tax.”

Livingston added: “Those that are in ancillary companies, whether it’s attorneys or construction or packaging providers or compliance or tax, we’re talking about $4.3 billion.”

From the OK Policy Institute: “SQ 820 would permit resentencing, reversal, modification and expungement for prior marijuana-related criminal records, removing barriers to housing, employment, and education.

Adults should be able to use medical marijuana as a matter of individual freedom. The potential for abuse of marijuana is low compared to alcohol, opioids, and many other prescription drugs.”

YES on 820 states that it will free up police to concentrate on serious violent crimes.

What Opponents say:

According to the OK Policy Institute: “Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and in 29 states, creating a patchwork system of laws. Oklahoma should wait to legalize recreational marijuana until the federal government changes the law. 

Legalizing recreational marijuana might encourage greater abuse of the substance.

Citing the need for more comprehensive research, the American Medical Association opposes legalization of marijuana for recreational use. 

Legalization of medical marijuana encouraged criminal enterprises to come to the state to participate in black-market marijuana operations. Loosening the state’s marijuana laws further would make those problems worse.”

Former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating told the Tulsa World : “We simply must protect our children,” Keating said. “This state question goes well beyond the ballot summary voters will see.”

Creek County District Attorney Max Cook is concerned that it will increase other drug use.

 The Sapulpa Herald spoke to some local dispensaries and found that they are divided on whether or not SQ820 should be passed. Nearly half said they had no problem with it, the other half felt that the measure is being pushed by corporate cannabis producers trying to “run Mom and Pop dispensaries out of business.”

People interviewed on the street were also nearly evenly divided on the proposed change in the law.

According to a survey conducted in 2021 by the Pew Research Center, 30% of Americans favor medical use only, while 59% favor legalization of medical and recreational use.

Sheriff Bret Bowling said: “what is important is that people do their own research.”

Here is the full text of SQ 820 for your consideration:

This measure creates a state law legalizing recreational use marijuana for persons 21 or older. Marijuana use and possession remain crimes under federal law. The export of marijuana from Oklahoma is prohibited. The law will have a fiscal impact on the State. The Oklahoma Tax Commission will collect a 15% excise tax on recreational use sales, above applicable sales taxes. Excise tax revenues will fund implementation of the law, with any surplus revenues going to public school programs to address substance abuse and improve student retention (30%), the General Revenue Fund (30%), drug addiction treatment programs (20%), courts (10%), and local governments (10%). The law limits certain marijuana-related conduct and establishes quantity limits, safety standards, restrictions, and penalties for violations. A local government may prohibit or restrict recreational marijuana use on the property of the local government and regulate the time, place, and manner of the operation of marijuana businesses within its boundaries. However, a local government may not limit the number of, or completely prohibit, such businesses. Persons who occupy, own or control private property may prohibit or regulate marijuana-related conduct, except that a lease agreement may not prohibit a tenant from lawfully possessing and consuming marijuana by means other than smoking. The law does not affect an employer’s ability to restrict employee marijuana use. For the first 2 years, marijuana business licenses are available only to existing licensees in operation 1 year or more. The law does not affect the rights of medical marijuana patients or licensees. The law requires resentencing, reversing, modifying, and expunging certain prior marijuana-related judgments and sentences unless the State proves an unreasonable risk to a person. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority is authorized to administer and enforce the law. Shall the proposal be approved?

For the proposal – YES; Against the proposal – NO