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Oklahoma to vote on legalizing recreational cannabis sales, use in 2023

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Yes On 820 Campaign
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Supporters of State Question 820 turn in signatures to the Oklahoma Secretary of State in July 2022.

Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday Oklahomans can vote on the legalization of recreational cannabis in a special election on March 7, 2023.

State Question 820 would legalize cannabis for adults over 21, and it would allow some people with drug convictions the opportunity to have their cannabis convictions reversed and criminal records expunged.

The question specifies for the first two years, recreational cannabis business licenses are available only to businesses that have already been in operation for at least a year.

Compounded with an existing moratorium on new grower, processor and dispensary licenses the legislature passed this spring, new business owners looking to break into the recreational cannabis business may be waiting awhile. The moratorium will expire Aug. 1, 2024 or earlier if the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority’s executive director determines the agency has caught up on pending reviews, inspections and investigations.

Earlier this year, 820’s backers turned in 69,000 more signatures than needed. But an outside vendor took so long to verify signatures that the state Supreme Court ruled between that and four legal challenges, it was too late for the initiative to be included on this November’s ballot.

That vendor, Western Petition Systems LLC, received a $300,000 contract for the work, according to an Open Records Request by Oklahoma Watch.

Critics say the lack of a cannabis question on the November ballot is a win for Oklahoma’s GOP, whose candidates may have been affected negatively by a larger — and potentially more progressive — voter turnout.

In addition to helping implement the law, tax revenues from the new industry would go toward public schools to address substance abuse and student retention, drug addiction treatment programs, courts, local governments and the General Revenue Fund.

Gov. Stitt told the Associated Press in September he opposes the proposal. However, due to the U.S.’s “patchwork” of state cannabis laws, Stitt said he supports nationwide legalization of cannabis. That’s in line with other recent national pushes to ease marijuana laws — such as President Joe Biden’s proposal to initiate a review on the drug’s federal classification.

“Do I wish that the feds would pass legalized marijuana? Yes. I think that would solve a lot of issues from all these different states,” Stitt told the AP. “But in our state, just trying to protect our state right now, I don’t think it would be good for Oklahoma.”

Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter
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