Does Oklahoma have America's most pot-friendly regime?
By Scott Sumner
With 5 more states legalizing pot last month, there are now 15 states where the drug is legal and 35 where medical marijuana is legal. Most people assume that complete legalization is more libertarian that merely legalizing medical marijuana. That’s been my view as well.
A recent article in Politico, however, makes a strong case for the proposition that Oklahoma has the nation’s freest pot market, despite not legalizing recreational marijuana. There are two parts to this argument:
1. It’s so easy to get a medical marijuana license in Oklahoma that for all intents and purposes the drug has been fully legalized:
Oklahoma is now the biggest medical marijuana market in the country on a per capita basis. More than 360,000 Oklahomans—nearly 10 percent of the state’s population—have acquired medical marijuana cards over the last two years. By comparison, New Mexico has the country’s second most popular program, with about 5 percent of state residents obtaining medical cards. Last month, sales since 2018 surpassed $1 billion. . . .
If a patient can persuade a doctor that he needs to smoke weed in order to soothe a stubbed toe, that’s just as legitimate as a dying cancer patient seeking to mitigate pain. The cards are so easy to obtain—$60 and a five-minute consultation—that many consider Oklahoma to have a de facto recreational use program.
2. The supply of marijuana is much less heavily regulated in Oklahoma than in even states that opted for full “legalization”:
To meet that demand, Oklahoma has more than 9,000 licensed marijuana businesses, including nearly 2,000 dispensaries and almost 6,000 grow operations. In comparison, Colorado—the country’s oldest recreational marijuana market, with a population almost 50 percent larger than Oklahoma—has barely half as many licensed dispensaries and less than 20 percent as many grow operations. In Ardmore, a town of 25,000 in the oil patch near the Texas border, there are 36 licensed dispensaries—roughly one for every 700 residents. In neighboring Wilson (pop. 1,695), state officials have issued 32 cultivation licenses, meaning about one out of 50 residents can legally grow weed.
(I use scare quotes for “legalization” as the drug is still illegal at the federal level, which restricts access to the banking system and increases the cost of production.)
All of this is occurring in a very conservative state:
“Turns out rednecks love to smoke weed,” Baker laughs. “That’s the thing about cannabis: It really bridges socio-economic gaps. The only other thing that does it is handguns. All types of people are into firearms. All types of people are into cannabis.”
Indeed, Oklahoma has established arguably the only free-market marijuana industry in the country. Unlike almost every other state, there are no limits on how many business licenses can be issued and cities can’t ban marijuana businesses from operating within their borders. In addition, the cost of entry is far lower than in most states: a license costs just $2,500. In other words, anyone with a credit card and a dream can take a crack at becoming a marijuana millionaire.
Pot legalization is one of those rare issues where the biggest divide is not left vs. right; rather it’s elites vs. average people:
Though polls indicated the measure was getting roughly 60 percent support from voters, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and practically every member of her cabinet opposed the legalization referendum, as did the entire Oklahoma congressional delegation. Police and prosecutors came out against it, along with every major religious organization, the Oklahoma State Medical Association and most of the business community, including the State Chamber of Oklahoma.
Even the Democratic Party elites have been slow to warm to the idea, which is why conservative states that allow referenda often legalize pot faster than liberal states (like New York) where the legislature determines the issue. Even President-elect Biden is skeptical of the idea.
Age is another factor, and Biden is of course from the “silent generation” that preceded the Baby Boomers.
Perhaps now Oklahoma can begin to repair the damage done to so many of its citizens:
At that time, the overwhelming consensus among the state’s lawmakers was that the best way to deal with illegal drug use—including marijuana consumption—was to lock up lots of Oklahomans for long periods of time.“
I knew that we were ruining families,” Sapp says of the state’s harsh criminal penalties. “It literally will take generations to repair the damage that we’ve done to people and their children and their grandchildren.”