Voters facing another controversial state question on marijuana legalization


By John Dobberstein, Editor

Voters across Oklahoma will be facing yet another controversial statewide ballot initiative involving marijuana – this time legalizing the drug for recreational purposes.

The polls open Tuesday across the state on State Question 820, which would legalize adult-use recreational marijuana in Oklahoma. Adults over the age of 21 years old would be able to purchase marijuana products for recreational use from licensed sellers. SQ820 would allow individuals to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, 6 mature marijuana plants, and 6 seedling plants.

The state question also creates a licensing process for recreational marijuana dispensaries, commercial growers, processors, and transporters, and it directs the state to create rules for the preparation and labeling of marijuana products within 90 days after becoming law.

The state would impose a 15% excise tax on each sale, with surplus revenue going to student services, drug addiction treatment programs, courts, local government, and the state General Revenue Fund.

Private landowners and businesses would be allowed to prohibit or regulate the use of marijuana on their property or during the course of employment. SQ820 would not change current medical marijuana laws and regulations.

In addition to marijuana legalization, the law creates a pathway for courts to resentence, reverse, modify and expunge certain prior marijuana-related conviction records. It also prohibits prosecutors from revoking bail, parole, or probation because of marijuana use.

Oklahomans have had several years to experience a taste of the marijuana industry after State Question 788 passed in 2018. Prior to that, State Question 818 and State Question 819, which would have overhauled the state’s medical cannabis program and legalized recreational marijuana, didn’t receive enough signatures to get on a statewide ballot.

Time for Reform

Proponents of the ballot measure say SQ820 is more about “criminal justice reform” than advancing marijuana use. That is to say, if a person is charged with a minor marijuana offense “they are saddled with a life-long criminal record that could make it harder to get a job, obtain students loans or a credit card, or lease an apartment,” says the group Yes on 820.

Proponents of the law will prevent unnecessary arrests and “allow people to clean their record.” In states that have legalized, Yes on 820 says arrests for simple marijuana offenses are down 70-90% — “freeing up time and money for the state to focus on more serious issues. Fewer arrests also mean our courts aren’t clogged with petty marijuana cases.”

Eighteen other states, including Montana and Arizona, have legalized marijuana for adults. In those states, the group says, licensed marijuana businesses must follow regulations and pay taxes. “Stores check IDs and products are tested by laboratories to ensure safety,” the group says.

Yes on 820 points out Oklahomans with health conditions, including veterans with PTSD and cancer patients must join a government registry to access the medical marijuana program. The measure will remove barriers “and make it easier for patients to alleviate their health conditions with marijuana.”

The group adds that penalties in place for anyone who gives marijuana to someone under 21 will be kept in place. And they point to “millions” in revenue that could come from taxes on recreational marijuana.

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action (ORCA) co-founder Kris Masterman, who authored questions 818 and 819, endorsed SQ820. He implored business leaders, activists and others interested in marijuana policy to support SQ820.

“This will save our state hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary arrests and incarceration, and it will also raise hundreds of millions of dollars in much needed tax revenue.

The measure has some notable endorsements from the Oklahoma ACLU, Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Arnall Family Foundation, Law Enforcement Action Partnership Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform and the Tulsa World.

A recent piece by The Frontier found the “Yes” campaign has raised $3 million and spent $2.7 million, but only $427,000 of the $3 million raised comes from within Oklahoma. The rest comes from out-of-state groups interested in legalizing marijuana or criminal justice reform.

The largest Oklahoma donor, according to The Frontier, is Tulsa businesswoman Stacy Schusterman and her foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies. Schusterman has given $300,000 to the Yes campaign in both her personal capacity and through the foundation she chairs.

‘Out of Control’

However, SQ820 is facing some serious opposition from a variety of directions – including many public safety officials who would, according to Yes to 820, benefit from criminal justice reforms that would allow police to focus on “more serious” crimes.

One of the primary opponents is “Protect Our Kids – No on SQ 820,” which is chaired by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating and includes organizations such as the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association and The State Chamber, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association.

Recently, several in the law enforcement community criticized mailings and advertisements from Yes on 820. One district attorney claimed it is “Big Cannabis” hiding behind a state question.

“To imply that expanding access to marijuana will make our communities safer would be laughable if it were not so destructive,” said the former director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, State Senator Darrell Weaver. “Every day, our law enforcement community is dealing with families struggling with marijuana addiction and the subsequent crime that occurs to feed that habit.

Logan County Sheriff Damon Devereaux said State Question 820 “throws a match into the middle of what already is a powder keg in rural Oklahoma. Illegal grows, black market operations, organized crime, even execution-style killings were all spawned by the poorly drafted initiative petition known as 788, and 820 builds on that flawed process.”

District Attorney Greg Mashburn says the state question is poorly written and “will actually make it worse on police officers on a day-to-day basis. By having a $25 fine for smoking pot in public, we will expect complaints to increase. However, the state question prohibits the detention of such an offender -- meaning we are really helpless to stop it.”

“Oklahoma will be hurt by increased access to marijuana,” stated Wade Gourley, Oklahoma City’s police chief. “Our mental health professionals confirm that the use of today’s high THC product leads to psychoses and schizophrenia, two diagnoses that are directly tied to homelessness. The fact is, SQ820 will not make us safer.”

The Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association, The Oklahoma District Attorneys’ Association and the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police are all members of the Protect Our Kids No 820 coalition and have encouraged a “no” vote.

Recently, 39 of Oklahoma’s 48 State Senators urged voters to reject the measure. Among their criticisms is that it doesn’t limit THC levels permitted, it permits smoking and use of marijuana around toddlers and infants, and the maximum $25 penalty for smoking marijuana in public “is not a deterrent” and will lead to more Oklahomans exposed to second-hand marijuana smoke.

“Because of the passage of SQ780 in 2016, minor marijuana possession charges are no longer punishable by imprisonment, so 820 is not needed for this purpose,” the Senators said in an open letter to voters in February.

The Senators also cited “out-of-control illegal marijuana-growing operations” that have brought organized crime and violence to Oklahoma.

Other politicians who oppose SQ820 include U.S. Senators James Lankford and Markwayne Mullin, Gov. Kevin Stitt, Attorney General Getner Drummond and U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Bice.


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 two years, marijuana business licenses are available only to existing licensees in operation one 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

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