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Residents of one of the most conservative states in the nation could soon have access to legal recreational marijuana if voters approve the measure in a special election on March 7.

State Question 820 would legalize the purchase and possession of cannabis across the state for adults 21 and over. It would allow users to possess up to eight ounces of marijuana, six mature marijuana plants, and six seedling plants, according to the measure.

recreational marijuana
Lead cultivator Kellan Gill defoliates medical cannabis at one of three Twisted Roo hydroponic growing houses outside of Lexington, Oklahoma.Brett Deering for NBC News

The recreational bill was expected to be on the November 2022 ballot after supporters successfully gathered more than the required number of signatures. Yet the state delayed counting and approving the signatures, causing the Oklahoma Supreme Court to move the date to a special election on March 7.

Supporters of the measure say it would boost the state’s economy, address racial disparities in marijuana-related convictions, and protect individual freedoms, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Opponents of the measure say it would contribute to Oklahoma’s already-notorious black market.

Unlike Oklahoma’s years-long medical marijuana industry, which only requires a doctor’s approval with no specific health conditions required, SQ 820 would no longer require a doctor’s approval. It would also expunge prior marijuana-related convictions and remove barriers to housing, employment and education.

Oklahomans to vote on recreational marijuana

Black Oklahomans are nearly three times more likely than White Oklahomans to be arrested for marijuana possession, and the state spent over $30 million enforcing marijuana laws in 2010 alone, according to a 2013 report from the ACLU.

Supporters of recreational marijuana also point to the expected increase in state revenue that would come with passage of SQ 820.

Despite being one of the most conservative states in the nation, Oklahoma already has one of the most progressive medical cannabis industries, with no qualifying conditions necessary to obtain a medical card from a doctor.

Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry, in which nearly 10% of Oklahomans participate, has generated over hundreds of millions in tax revenue since July 2019, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA).

The state generated nearly $6 million from medical cannabis sales in January.

Yet opponents of the measure point to a rising black market in the state that has contributed to violent crime, especially in rural counties.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics claims Oklahoma has become the leading source of illegal marijuana trafficking nationwide, KOCO reported in December.

Opponents say legalizing recreational cannabis would expand black market

On Thursday, the state’s newly elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond announced he would be taking over the prosecution of a Canadian County attorney charged with illegal marijuana business practices.

A multi-county grand jury indicted Matt Stacey on 13 felony counts in October after he allegedly provided cover for Chinese organized crime operations.

recreational marijuana
Wu Chen is a suspect in the weekend killings of four people at a marijuana farm in Oklahoma. Photo: Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation/US Marshals/ HANDOUT PHOTO

“Illegal marijuana grows are causing an alarming influx of organized crime throughout Oklahoma, mostly run by Chinese nationals,” Drummond said in a press release. “Any Oklahoman who partners with these criminals and enables their illicit dealings will be held accountable.”

It’s not clear just how much support recreational marijuana has in the state, but if the vote for medical cannabis is any indicator, Oklahoma may soon join other states in passing the measure. In 2018, over 57% of voters, or 507,582 Okahomans, approved medical cannabis, according to the state’s election board.

If voters approve SQ 820 in March, Oklahoma will join 21 other states, Washington D.C., and the territory of Guam in approving recreational cannabis.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...