Religious Sooners Oppose Legal Marijuana

Even though the Sooner State has not yet legalized recreational cannabis, it has twice the number of medical dispensaries of California.

AP/Seth Wenig
Marijuana products at the Good Leaf Dispensary at St. Regis, New York. AP/Seth Wenig

In one week, Oklahoma residents will go to the polls for a special election on whether to legalize recreational cannabis — a measure that has drawn opposition from an unusual opponent, religious groups in the state.

Although the Oklahoma Faith Coalition cites religious liberty and “protecting life” as their two key issues with the measure, the group has inserted itself as one of the most vocal opponents of State Question 820, the cannabis question.

The group says the ballot measure “will put even more drugs on the streets in our state” at a time when “Oklahoma is being overrun by marijuana.”

They cite the fact that, even though the Sooner State has not yet legalized recreational cannabis, it has over twice the number of dispensaries of California. According to the Los Angeles Times, Oklahoma boasts 2,545 dispensaries, while California has 913 and Colorado has 544.

The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been legal in Oklahoma since 2018. If State Question 820 is passed, it would eliminate the need for a medical card for adults 21 and older.

According to the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics, a state-level law enforcement agency, the state is among the leading sources of illegal cannabis in America. 

Beyond its concern about the sheer number of cannabis businesses in Oklahoma, they say that the legalization of cannabis will lead to an increase in crime. According to the faith coalition, the question also fails to address other cannabis-related crimes.

“Foreign nationals, including Chinese, Mexicans and Russians, are purchasing Oklahoma farm land illegally, bringing in labor and sex trafficking,” the group claims.

A coalition leader told Oklahoma Fox 25 that “over the last four years we have seen the repercussions of the marijuana industry in Oklahoma, and we feel like it’s time for us to stand up and let our voice be heard.” 

The Oklahoma Faith Coalition is not the only religious group opposing SQ 820. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Baptists, and the Oklahoma Assemblies of God have taken a stand as well.

“We’ve seen that recreational marijuana creates easy access to mind altering, addictive substances [and] we’re concerned that this measure comes with empty promises and disguised consequences even as the voters go to the polls on March 7th,” the Oklahoma Baptist spokesman, Brian Hobbs, told Oklahoma News 4.

The state GOP is also opposing the measure, stating that landlords would have to allow tenants to use cannabis if it is legalized, and that cannabis use would not be able to be used as evidence in child custody cases.

“SQ 820 is a cornucopia that provides only delights for the marijuana user to the detriment of other citizens,” the state Republican committee wrote in a statement. “It does nothing to protect our state from foreign actors that purchase farm land to, often illegally, grow marijuana.”

Supporters of recreational cannabis argue that the state will be able to tax and regulate cannabis if it is legalized and save money on law enforcement. “This will save our state hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary arrests and incarceration, and it will also raise hundreds of millions of dollars in much needed tax revenue,” a Yes On 820 co-founder, Kris Masterman, said.

Others argue that legalizing recreational cannabis would be little more than a formality in a state that already has thousands of dispensaries, a large cannabis industry, and where about 10 percent of the population already has a card allowing purchases of marijuana for medical reasons.

If passed, there would also be a 15 percent tax imposed on adult-use cannabis products that would go to the Oklahoma Marijuana Revenue Fund. The fund would then distribute money to municipalities, the State Judicial Revolving Fund, the general fund, public education grants, and substance abuse treatment and prevention efforts.

If passed, those who are serving prison time for cannabis-related crimes could file for reversals of their convictions, dismissals of their cases, or modifications of their sentences. Those who have already served their time could file for expungement. 

With an absence of polling, it’s not clear whether Oklahoma is likely to pass the measure next week. However, only three states have rejected ballot measures legalizing recreational cannabis — Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota.


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