Over the past decade, there has been a steady march toward the legalization of marijuana, with 21 states having legalized its recreational use since 2012.
There have been some recent headwinds to that effort, as voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected legalization referendums last year. And Tuesday, Oklahoman voters gave a resounding “no” to the question of marijuana legalization.
All 77 counties in Oklahoma rejected State Question 820, which would have legalized recreational marijuana sales to persons over 21 years of age. The total vote was 62 percent against and 38 percent for.
In Oklahoma, medical marijuana usage is legal, and essentially anyone can easily sign up for it. Over 400,000 Oklahomans are enrolled in the medical marijuana program.
Voters were evidently not impressed with the impact of legalized “medical marijuana” on their state.
Marijuana has become a major source of crime in Oklahoma. In an eight-month period in 2021, for example, over five dozen raids were conducted on illegal marijuana cultivation operations — many of which were run by foreign nationals. Raids have discovered human trafficking, money laundering, and workers living in squalid conditions. Some of these properties had drugs with street values in the tens of millions of dollars.
Following the vote Tuesday, Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said, “Regardless of where one stands on the question of marijuana legalization, the stark reality is that organized crime from China and Mexico has infiltrated Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry.”
The campaign against State Question 820 focused on the criminal ramifications of legalizing marijuana as well as how the drug contributes to the state’s mental health crisis. It was led by former Oklahoma Republican Gov. Frank Keating and Terri White, the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and most of the state’s GOP officials opposed the referendum.
Monday, in the lead-up to the vote, Keating made a simple argument: “We don’t want a stoned society.”
“The last thing I want to see is a stoned society,” he said. “It makes no sense to me to open the floodgates and permit a substance as destructive to health, wealth, and welfare as legalization of recreational marijuana. It’s something that we as a society need to say, ‘enough is enough.’ We’ve had medical marijuana, and we don’t need people face-down in the streets.”
Marijuana lobbyists have long argued that marijuana has copious health benefits that will save lives and improve the standard of living for those with health problems. Recent research has cast doubt on those assertions and has suggested that marijuana is not helpful for treating pain, depression, and anxiety and that it very often leads to addiction.
A 2022 study led by Jodi Gilman, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, found that 17 percent of people who obtained medical marijuana cards developed an addiction to marijuana. That number increased to 28 percent when the patient was using marijuana to treat anxiety or depression. Moreover, the drug was not found to have a significant benefit in the treatment of pain, depression, or anxiety.
“People with pain, anxiety or depression symptoms failed to report any improvements,” said Gilman.
Many advocates of marijuana legalization have also argued for it on the basis that it will add significantly to a state’s coffers, an argument that has also been used with the legalization of other vices, such as gambling. The increased crime that legalized medical marijuana has brought to Oklahoma raises the question of whether the state would actually stand to gain financially from legalizing the drug.
A 2021 Gallup poll found that Republicans are evenly split on the legalization of marijuana. Fifty percent of Republicans said that marijuana should be legal, while 49 percent said it should be illegal.
The electoral results in Oklahoma, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, however, indicate that, in seeing the deleterious impacts of marijuana on crime, mental health, and addiction, the GOP could be returning to more unified opposition to marijuana legalization.
Study: Medical Marijuana Leads to Addiction, Not Shown to Be Effective