NORTHEAST OKLAHOMA – Based on his 32 years of experience as a former judge and prosecutor, former District Judge Barry Denney is hitting social media to voice his opposition to a ballot proposal that will legalize recreational marijuana.

“I’m voting no,” Denney posted on a social media site on March 1.  

Oklahoma voters will go to the polls on March 7 to vote on State Question 820.

If State Question 820 passes, recreational marijuana will be taxed at 15% almost double the current 7% retail tax on medical marijuana. You can read the full text of the ballot question here along with other interesting facts about the measure.

Supporters of the bill are gambling that recreational marijuana will be a billion-dollar industry for Oklahoma.  Those opposing recreational marijuana cite the health risks and the increased violence in black-market operations in Oklahoma.

“Legalization of recreational marijuana as a means to increase tax collections by encouraging the very behavior that has already led to tens of thousands of ruined lives is simply not worth the cost,” Denney said in his Facebook post.

Denney served 24 years as a judge for Delaware and Ottawa Counties and eight years as a prosecutor before retiring Dec. 31, 2022.

Former Oklahoma District Judge Barry Denney

But it’s the damage to children that troubles Denney the most. The former judge outlined in his post the repercussions legalizing recreational marijuana can do for the youngest Oklahomans.

“We will see far more children brought to emergency rooms across the state due to unintentional exposure to marijuana,” Denney said.

Children seen in emergency rooms two years prior to Colorado legalizing recreational marijuana for unintentional exposure to marijuana nearly doubled in the two years after legalization and the number of teens seen in emergency rooms quadrupled after the legalization of recreational marijuana, he said.

“Surely no one seriously thinks that by limiting recreational use of marijuana to those 21 and older we will somehow keep teen drug use at the same level as before legalization,” Denney said.

One Colorado hospital admitted 629 teens half of whom either admitted to the attending physician or tested positive for marijuana and other more dangerous drugs, he said.

“In leaving the district attorney’s office and taking the bench I thought I would hear far fewer cases involving drug activity,” Denney said.  “I was wrong.”  

At least 80% of the family law cases Denney heard involved drug use and “nearly all admitted that their drug use started with marijuana and continued to methamphetamine, cocaine or other more serious drugs when marijuana no longer gave them the high it initially did.”

“Marijuana was nearly always a significant part of the drug usage that brought divorce litigants, parents, those charged with crimes and children in front of me,” Denney said. 

“If my experiences in the court system are not enough to convince you to vote against this measure, check on the impact of legalization of recreational marijuana in other states,” Denney stated.  

The Continued Impact of Marijuana Legalization on Unintentional Pediatric Exposures in Colorado

Since recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, traffic deaths in which at least one driver tested positive for marijuana have increased by 109% while all traffic deaths only increased by 31%, Denney said.

If Oklahoma shares the average impact legalization has had in the other states that have done so, Oklahoma will have at least 30 to 40 more traffic fatalities in the year following implementation of the law, Denney posted.