Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Diving into Oklahoma's experience as "Hottest Weed Market"

6a00d8341bfae553ef0240a4b9776b200b-800wiIn a handful of prior posts (linked below), I have flagged Oklahoma as a red state to watch closely as a vanguard of modern medical marijuana reforms.  And so now I am pleased, but not surprised, to see this lengthy Politico magazine profile of deveopments in the Sooner state.  The piece's full headline highlights its themes: "How One of the Reddest States Became the Nation’s Hottest Weed Market; Oklahoma entered the world of legal cannabis late, but its hands-off approach launched a boom and a new nickname: ‘Toke-lahoma.’"  I recommend a full read, and here are excerpts:

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.

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.

What is happening in Oklahoma is almost unprecedented among the 35 states that have legalized marijuana in some form since California voters backed medical marijuana in 1996.  Not only has the growth of its market outstripped other more established state programs but it is happening in a state that has long stood out for its opposition to drug use.  Oklahoma imprisons more people on a per-capita basis than just about any other state in the country, many of them non-violent drug offenders sentenced to lengthy terms behind bars.  But that state-sanctioned punitive streak has been overwhelmed by two other strands of American culture — a live-and-let-live attitude about drug use and an equally powerful preference for laissez-faire capitalism....

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....

The hands-off model extends to patients, as well.  There’s no set of qualifying conditions in order to obtain a medical card.  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.

But lax as it might seem, Oklahoma’s program has generated a hefty amount of tax revenue while avoiding some of the pitfalls of more intensely regulated programs.  Through the first 10 months of this year, the industry generated more than $105 million in state and local taxes.  That’s more than the $73 million expected to be produced by the state lottery this fiscal year, though still a pittance in comparison to the overall state budget of nearly $8 billion.  In addition, Oklahoma has largely escaped the biggest problems that have plagued many other state markets: Illegal sales are relatively rare and the low cost to entry has made corruption all but unnecessary.

Prior related posts:

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2020/11/diving-into-oklahomas-experience-as-hottest-weed-market.html

History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink

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