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Oklahoma voters reject recreational marijuana

A truck in Norman, Okla. sports a large sign urging Oklahomans to vote against State Question 820.
Graycen Wheeler
A truck in Norman, Okla. sports a large sign urging Oklahomans to vote against State Question 820.

Updated: March 7 at 10:02 p.m.

Recreational cannabis won’t be legal in Oklahoma.

Voters resoundingly shot down State Question 820, which would have made recreational pot legal in the state.

The vote comes as legal marijuana grow operations and dispensaries have budded throughout Oklahoma in the wake of medical marijuana legalization nearly five years ago. There are more than 7,000 growers, 2,800 dispensaries and 369,000 medical marijuana patients in the state.

But there are also concerns about the industry in rural Oklahoma, where voters firmly rejected it. Special election results show roughly 60% of voters in the state cast their ballot against approving recreational marijuana. But in rural counties, those percentages were generally even higher.

"We are obviously pleased with the results,” Vote No campaign spokesman Pat McFerron said. “We think this sends a clear message that Oklahomans oppose the unfettered access to marijuana we have experienced under our so-called medical program.”

The rejection was praised by Republican politicians who had asked voters not to pass the state question.

“I believe this is the best thing to keep our kids safe and for our state as a whole,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement. “I remain committed to protecting Oklahomans and my administration will continue to hold bad actors accountable and crack down on illegal marijuana operations.”

Attorney General Gentner Drummond wrote in a statement he is “proud of Oklahomans for rejecting the expansion of organized crime by defeating State Question 820.”

Cannabis business leaders said they’ll continue. Blake Cantrell, owner of the Peak Dispensary in Oklahoma City, had this advice for his fellow operators.

"Stick it out,” he said. “Because while this doesn't help us directly, as it would have if it were to pass, it also doesn't directly hurt us."

The state question was on an unusual ballot, appearing in March after signature verification was delayed. It was the only item on the ballot for voters to consider.

But people who worked for the campaign to legalize marijuana were defiant. Leaders say they’re going to continue to propose measures to decriminalize marijuana in Oklahoma. Michelle Tilley was the campaign manager for State Question 820. At the Yes on 820 watch party in downtown Oklahoma City Tuesday night, she says this is an issue that Oklahoma voters of all kinds can agree on.

“This is just a matter of when change is coming,” Tilley said. “I'm proud of what we've done here because it has started a serious conversation about the injustices of the way that our policies are right now in the state.”

McFerron said he hopes it leads to reforms by Oklahoma lawmakers. Though not the same ones as his opponents on the vote yes campaign.

“It should be considered a strong message to the legislature that Oklahomans reject recreational marijuana,” McFerron said. “And that's really what we have with our current medical program. So I hope this gives them the ability and political cover to really make our medical program truly medical.”


Oklahoma voters will head to the polls today to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana.

State Question 820 would make it legal for people to have up to one ounce of weed for adult use, grow up to six cannabis plants, and create a pathway to expunge some prior marijuana offenses. It is the only item on the ballot in every county in the state.

State Question No. 820 Initiative Petition No. 434

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
The official ballot language of Oklahoma's State Question 820.

The question is the only item voters will consider, which likely affects turnout. It ended up alone following a delay in signature verification, which pushed the state question off the November ballot.

It’s unclear what voters will do. When Oklahomans narrowly voted to approve State Question 788, which legalized medical marijuana, regulators were caught flat-footed. But there’s been a boom in business and with it a boom in tax revenues for the state that has paid for things like school facilities. Pot businesses are everywhere and in fact, there are more here than anywhere else in the country.

With varying opposition and support, the result will likely be determined by which side turns out. And voter participation, especially among young people, in Oklahoma is some of the worst in the country.

“Sometimes in Oklahoma, these are decided by very few voters,” University of Oklahoma political scientist Alyson Shortle said in an interview about the election. “So it is important if you care about this issue to go out and vote.”

The state’s cannabis industry has seen rapid development since 2018 and the passage of medical marijuana - with more than 7,000 growers, 2,800 dispensaries and 369,000 medical marijuana patients.

Recent finance campaign reports show Yes on 820 - Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws has spent about $4 million, mostly towards getting the initiative through the petition process and to a statewide ballot. It’s endorsed by groups like the ACLU of Oklahoma and Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform.

Meanwhile, Protect our Kids No 820 has spent more than $200,000 so far. It’s supported by groups like the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and Oklahoma Faith Leaders.

As of Monday morning, more than 56,000 early voters — mail-in absentee and in-person absentee — had cast their ballot. Comparatively, for SQ788 in 2018 — nearly 77,000 voters cast early ballots. However, comparisons are difficult this year because the only thing on the ballot is SQ820. In 2018, voters were also voting in primaries and other local elections.

Polls are open today from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information and to check your registration, visit the OK Voter Portal.

Check your polling place

To make sure you’re going to the proper place to vote, visit the OK Voter Portal online, or call your county election board. Voters can only cast a ballot at their assigned polling location.

What do I need to bring with me?

Oklahoma requires proof of identity to vote, so bring a valid photo ID from the state, federal, or tribal government, or your voter ID card. Otherwise, you’ll have to cast a provisional ballot that won’t be counted until after election day.

Some acceptable forms of ID include:

You are also allowed to bring any notes, guides or information you need to the polls for the races you're deciding on.

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Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
Kateleigh Mills was the Special Projects reporter for KOSU from 2019 to 2024.
Xcaret Nuñez covered agriculture and rural communities for KOSU as a corps member with Report for America from June 2022 to September 2023.
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