Oklahomans vote on recreational marijuana March 7

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For anyone traveling northwest toward Oklahoma on the Garrison Avenue bridge leaving Fort Smith, the first business seen just to the west of the Fort Smith Stock Yards in Moffett, Oklahoma has an inflatable sign that whips the word marijuana up and down in the stiff Oklahoma wind.

The River Valley Natural Health eyecatcher is for a medical marijuana dispensary.

Unlike Arkansas, the number of dispensaries in Oklahoma was not limited until Aug 26, 2022 when Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a moratorium on licenses for new growers, processors and dispensaries.

There are 42 medical marijuana dispensaries currently in Sequoyah County, Oklahoma, and another 45 dispensaries in Le Flore County, two counties that border the Fort Smith city limits, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority on Feb. 24, 2023.

More:Will Oklahoma voters legalize recreational marijuana?

There are only 38 dispensaries that operate in Arkansas. Oklahoma has 2,648 medical marijuana dispensaries. There is a dispensary named Viva Sativa in Talihina, Puff Puff Pass in Poteau to name a few with creative names.

South of Fort Smith, near the Oklahoma and Arkansas border near Smithville is the Zafra 420 Dispensary. Husband and wife James and Cheryl Elliott opened the dispensary since 2019. Cheryl Elliott predicted passage of the Question 820 March 7.

"I think it will pass, I really do and it will help our business tremendously," Elliott said. She said she does not think recreational marijuana will fail in Oklahoma like it did not Arkansas. She said she has heard opposition to it and town hall meetings have addressed it.

In her medical marijuana dispensary, she said she could sell recreational marijuana if it is approved by voters and charge a separate 15% excise tax.

On Tuesday, March 7, Oklahoma voters will decide if they want to legalize recreational marijuana when Question 820 is on the ballots. Arkansas voters have already said no to recreational marijuana in November. There was opposition in Arkansas from the poultry industry, insurance companies, conservative groups and even then Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Early voting in Oklahoma for the March 7 vote SQ 820 is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2 and Friday, March 3.

Opposition in Oklahoma to recreational marijuana has risen from state Baptists and the Oklahoma Attorney General Guntner Drummond, who said legalization would bring organized crime.

Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws sponsored the initiative. The petitions were not counted in time for the Nov. 8 general election but Gov. Stitt approved the question for March 7.

The vote in Oklahoma is on a special election date March 7. In Arkansas, the question was on the general election ballots Nov. 8. In Arkansas, recreational marijuana was defeated by a vote of 56.25% to 43.75%, a count of 505,130 against the proposal to 392,940 in favor.

On Nov. 8, 2022 voters in Missouri and Maryland passed recreational marijuana, and voters in North Dakota and South Dakota rejected similar proposals. There are 21 states, including Washington D.C. and Guam, that have legalized recreational marijuana. However, it is not legalized on the federal level.

Gov. Stitt has said he opposes legalization of recreational marijuana in Oklahoma because it is not legal federally.

"We should not have a checkerboard of jurisdictions across the states," Stitt said.

Currently, Arkansas residents with a medical license can apply for an out-of-state Oklahoma medical marijuana license that is good for 30 days.

Elliott, whose dispensary is close to the border of Arkansas, said Arkansas patients who get an out-of-state license in Oklahoma are welcome customers.

Prices in Oklahoma are less expensive for products, she said.

What to know about the Oklahoma question

Oklahoma voters could legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older with a yes or no vote. State Question 820 would allow adults to buy recreational marijuana from a licensed dealer, possess up to one ounce, and grow six plants and six seedlings.

If approved, the law would require "resentencing, reversing, modifying and expunging certain prior marijuana-related judgments and sentences unless the state proves an unreasonable risk to a person," the ballot reads.

The state would impose a 15% excise tax on sales. The tax would fund the law, and 30% of surplus revenues would go to public school programs to address substance abuse and improve retention, the ballot reads. Another 30% would go to the general revenue fund, 20% for drug addiction treatment programs, 10% for the courts and 10% for local governments, the ballot reads.

Early voting starts at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 2 and Friday, March 3. Sequoyah County, Oklahoma voters can vote early at the Sequoyah County Election Board office, 110 E. Creek Ave., Sallisaw. Le Flore County voters can vote early at the Le Flore County Election Board, 103 N. Church, Poteau.

State Question 820 is the only issue on the ballot for the special election.

A licensing process would be established for dispensaries, growers, processors and transporters. Tax revenues would be used for student services, drug addiction treatment programs, courts, local governments and the state general revenue fund.

Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788 in 2018 that legalized medical marijuana As of February 2023, there were 2,877 dispensaries in Oklahoma. In Sequoyah County, the State Line Dispensary is on U.S. 64 and Arkoma in Le Flore County. Another State Line Dispensary is in Pocola in Le Flore County.

An Arkansas resident with a medical marijuana license is eligible for an out-of-state Oklahoma medical marijuana license for 30 days.

At one of the State Line Dispensaries, an owner said he does not know if he would sell recreational marijuana at themedical marijuana dispensary if voters approve March 7. He said he hopes voters do approve recreational marijuana.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Voters in Oklahoma will decide on recreational marijuana March 7, 2023