NORTHEAST OKLA. – The approval of recreational marijuana by Oklahoma voters in next month’s special election could bring a windfall of millions of tax dollars into the state’s coffers over the next five years – but at what cost?
Oklahoma State Question 820 which legalizes recreational marijuana is on the March 7 election ballot. If approved by voters, adults 21 years old and older, may possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six mature marijuana plants and up to six seedlings.
The state question pits a long-held belief that pot causes social problems against a tax windfall.
Supporters of the state question are pushing the financial benefits if the measure passes, including the possibility of a billion-dollar industry within the next five years.
The Sooner State would gain up to $821 million in combined medical and recreational taxes from 2024 to 2028, according to a 9-page economic impact and tax analysis report by Vicente Sederberg LLP and the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association.
The study shows tax dollars from the sale of medical and recreational marijuana can be used to increase funding for schools, roads, local governments, public safety, drug treatment programs, and other healthcare services.
Of the $821 million in tax revenue, $434 million will be new state revenue generated from the 15% excise tax on recreational sales to adults along with standard state and local sales taxes, the report shows.
The excise tax will go to the Medical Marijuana Authority and any excess revenue will be divided with 30% going to public school programs to address substance abuse and improve student retention, 30% to the general revenue, 20 % to drug addiction treatment programs, 10 % to courts and 10 % to local governments.
Those opposing the state question point to the health risks and the increased violence in black-market operations.
Protect Our Kids NO 820, a political action group headed by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, is opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana.
“We simply must protect our children,” Keating said in a prepared statement. “This state question goes well beyond the ballot summary voters will see. Just one example is that hidden inside this question is a clause that expressly lowers the legal threshold for child endangerment. It includes a prohibition on our court system from considering marijuana usage in child custody and visitation cases. These are just a few of the problems.”
Where at one-time possession or use of marijuana sometime led to unfavorable child court rulings, possession or use of marijuana by a license holder is no longer grounds for an emergency custody order, said Christianna Wright, an Oklahoma family lawyer.
“The use isn’t the issue, it’s the abuse of marijuana that’s the issue,” Wright said. “The courts treat medical marijuana use like alcohol use.”
Judges make decisions on what is safe for the child, she said.
“For instance, it’s not safe to have bowls of marijuana gummy bears throughout your house and a toddler running around,” Wright said.
Another argument against legalizing recreational marijuana is the legal penalties.
“Our law enforcement community is just now starting to get a handle on all of the activity around so-called medical marijuana,” said Steve Kunzweiler, Tulsa County District Attorney in a prepared statement. “To go in and pass new laws that further tie the hands of law enforcement could be devastating.”
The passage of this state question sets the punishment for underage users at four hours of counseling, regardless of how many times it is on school grounds, he said.
The group, in addition to having the backing of Kunzweiler, has the backing of the Oklahoma Faith Coalition and the Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association.
The group is centering its opposition on several issues, including:
- Permits the smoking of marijuana around children,
- Prohibits courts from considering abuse of marijuana in child custody and visitation cases,
- Does not limit THC content, leading to more severe child overdoses,
- Increased violence,
- Foreign ownership of Oklahoma land,
- Excessive water and electricity usage at grow operations that strain the state’s infrastructure.
“In northeast Oklahoma, we have more marijuana dispensaries than we have Dollar General stores,” said Rev. Sam Smith, president of the Grove Ministral Alliance and Freewill Baptist Church pastor.
When a new building is going up in the area it’s either a Dollar General store or a medical marijuana dispensory, he said.
Currently medicinal marijuana is allowed in the Sooner State courtesy of State Question 788, which passed in June 2018 with 57% of the vote.
Voters in Ottawa, Delaware and Craig counties voted down the measure.
- Craig County voters, 54.81 percent no votes to 45.19 percent yes votes,
- Ottawa County voters, 53.44 percent no votes to 46.56 percent yes votes,
- Delaware County voters, 50.51 percent no votes to 49.49 percent yes votes.
Since the state passed medical marijuana, the cannabis business has blossomed in the three northeast Oklahoma counties.
As expected Oklahoma County leads the state with 1,437 licenses, which covers growers, dispensaries, processors and transportation.
Delaware County is ranked 7th out of 77 counties with licenses.
|Delaware County||Ottawa County||Craig County|