Pot vote has Oklahoma hungry to rake in greens from Texas

OKLAHOMA CITY — Tens of thousands of Texans from the bustling Dallas-Fort Worth area regularly drive to Red River to gamble in glitzy Las Vegas-style tribal casinos or relax in cabins or swim and ski in lakes that dot southern Oklahoma.

Soon, they could be coming north for another draw: recreational marijuana.

Oklahoma voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a ballot measure legalizing consumption of the plant for adults 21 and older. The conservative state already has one of the nation’s strongest medical marijuana programs, and industry advocates hope an influx of consumers from Texas will be a boon to a market that has become saturated.

“There are thousands of Texans who are increasingly coming to Oklahoma as a tourist destination,” said Ryan Kiesel, a former state legislator and one of the organizers of State Question 820. “I want to be able to sell legal, regulated and taxed marijuana to those who Texans over the age of 21 and take their tax dollars and invest them in Oklahoma schools and Oklahoma health care.”

The population of the growing Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex alone — approaching 8 million people — is nearly double that of the entire state of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is expected to see a $1.8 billion increase in recreational sales that would generate about $434 million in sales tax revenue from 2024 to 2028 alone if the measure passes, according to an industry-sponsored economic impact study cannabis. By far the largest number of out-of-state consumers would be from Texas, followed by Arkansas and Kansas, the report shows.

Oklahoma already has one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country, with about 10 percent of the state’s adult population holding a medical license. Unlike most other states, Oklahoma does not have a list of qualifying medical conditions, allows patients to get a doctor’s recommendation online, and grants licenses that are valid for two years.

Supporters of SQ 820 initially tried to put the question on the November ballot, but a delay in verifying signatures led Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt to call a special election just for that proposition.

Industry insiders say Oklahoma’s low barrier to entry has led to thousands of licensed growers, processors and medical operators competing for a limited number of patients. While inflation is causing the cost of many products to rise, dispensary prices for marijuana have plummeted and many operators are going out of business. A site for cannabis-related sales shows thousands of Oklahoma growing businesses and dispensaries for sale.

“They allowed a free market hemp industry, and that’s what everybody wanted, but now we need more customers,” said Chip Baker, a grower who also runs a marijuana garden supply store in Oklahoma City. “There has to be an influx of people here to buy this product. It’s just math.”

Kevin Pattah, a Michigan native who came to Oklahoma to get into the cannabis business, now operates six Mango Cannabis retail locations across the state. He said the price of cartridges of 1 gram of marijuana concentrate that sold for $60-$70 in 2019 is now $20. Prices for marijuana flowers and other products have also fallen.

“There are so many products on the market and there is only so much demand. It hurts everybody,” said Pattah, whose office has a prominent digital display counting down to Tuesday’s vote. “We have felt the heat as well.

“Our average ticket was $130 at one point. Now they spend an average of $60. So, it’s less than half now.”

Pattah said the expansion of legal sales in Michigan in 2018 was a huge boon for medical operators in that state, particularly those who operated dispensaries near its borders with Ohio and Indiana.

While many in Oklahoma’s cannabis industry are eager for recreational sales, opponents include a group of clergy, law enforcement and prosecutors led by former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, a former FBI agent. Incumbent Gov. Kevin Stitt and nearly all Republicans in the Oklahoma Senate have also announced their opposition.

Opponents cite an increase in the amount of Oklahoma marijuana being exported out of state and sold on the black market, as well as criminal activity related to some marijuana crops, including the murders of four Chinese nationals at an illegal rural marijuana farm. Oklahoma.

“SQ 820 strikes a match in the middle of what is already a powder keg in rural Oklahoma,” said Logan County Sheriff Damon Devereaux, president of the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association.

Not all law enforcement agencies are concerned about legalized marijuana. Sheriff Ray Sappington in Cook County, Texas, which borders Oklahoma and includes a major north-south interstate, I-35, said that while his deputies may end up arresting more people for bringing marijuana into Texas than Oklahoma is not his first priority.

“Our issues are not marijuana, to be honest with you,” said Sappington, who said most people caught with less than 2 ounces of marijuana are issued a citation and released. “Fentanyl is so deadly and we’re dealing with this across the country. This is the battle. It’s not marijuana.”

Still, legalizing marijuana is a nonstarter at the Texas Capitol, and it’s poised to stay that way as Republican Gov. Greg Abbott settles into a new four-year term. That left marijuana advocates in Texas looking elsewhere — including on ballots in some cities. In November, five Texas cities approved referendums to decriminalize marijuana possession. One was Denton, less than an hour’s drive from the Oklahoma border.

If passed, Oklahoma would be the 22nd state to legalize cannabis, and possibly the most conservative, after defeating similar proposals in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota last year. Under Oklahoma’s plan, anyone over the age of 21 would be able to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana, plus concentrates and infused products. People could also legally grow up to 12 marijuana plants. Entertainment sales will be subject to an excise tax of 15% in addition to the regular sales tax. The excise tax would be used to fund local municipalities, the court system, public schools, substance abuse treatment and the state’s general revenue fund.

The proposal also outlines a court process for people to request that previous marijuana-related convictions be expunged or dismissed.


Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.


Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter: @apseanmurphy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *