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By The Black Wall Street Times Editorial Board
On Tuesday, March 7th, Oklahoma voters will decide whether or not to make recreational marijuana legal across the state. If passed, Oklahoma would join 21 other states and the District of Colombia in legalizing marijuana. The measure, however, does far more than just legalize cannabis; it seeks to correct longstanding injustices and increase state funding.
SQ 820 makes it legal for a person age 21 or older to use marijuana recreationally, simply removing the requirement to obtain a medical card.
In addition, the measure builds on previous efforts to enhance criminal justice reforms. It requires certain crimes to be retroactively re-sentenced, reversed, modified or expunged.
In 2019, more than 1.3 million Americans faced arrest for drug possession charges. Of those, more than 1/3 were for possession of marijuana. And while Black and White Americans report using marijuana at relatively equal rates, Black Americans remain nearly twice as likely to face arrest.
The shift in policy helps to reduce overall arrests by legalizing possession. At the same time, it gives those who have been disproportionately affected by racial bias in the justice system a pathway to expunging convictions from their records. In doing so, thousands of Oklahomans could see increased access to employment, housing and more.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond has been an outspoken opponent of SQ 820 passing. Still, in an interview with The BWS Times, Drummond indicated he supports expungement for those with low-level possession offenses.
“This thought crossed my head when Gov. Stitt said he smoked pot in college,” Drummond said. “And I thought, what if he had been arrested? His life would’ve taken a different path.”
“There should be a mechanism considered by the legislature that I’m happy to administer toward the expungement of those things,” he continued.
Claims of ‘increased crime’ refused by data
Opponents of the measure largely claim that it will lead to increased crime and violence. However, a 2020 study of FBI crime data refutes that claim.
In the years after Washington state and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, property crimes and violent crimes decreased in both states. However, the study also found the reduction in violence expanded beyond the states’ respective borders.
A review of crime data from hundreds of border counties in the states surrounding Colorado and Washington also showed a substantial decrease in crime.
The drop in rates of violent and property crime in Colorado, Washington and border counties outpaced drops in crime in other counties where marijuana was still illegal.
SQ 820 allows the state of Oklahoma to better regulate the production and sale of marijuana in the state. For the first two years, only medical marijuana businesses that have already been open for at least twelve months can apply to sell the product recreationally.
It also retains the rights of local governments and business owners to prohibit the use of marijuana on their property, while allowing employers to still impose restrictions on their employees using marijuana.
In addition to allowing regulations of the product, the state will also collect a 15% tax on all marijuana sales. SQ 820 requires half of those tax dollars go to public education and to addiction treatment programs.
Voting YES on SQ 820 makes Oklahoma a safer, stronger place.
In the last few decades, the stigma around marijuana has largely subsided. The use of the product has become almost as unremarkable as the use of alcohol. Still, the laws of many states and the country as a whole do not reflect this societal shift.
Passing SQ 820 will allow our state to better regulate marijuana, to tax it and to work to heal the harms and inequities caused by criminalizing it.
The measure will increase state funding, decrease crime and address racial disparities in our justice system.
This state question does not simply favor those who use marijuana. Instead, it favors everyone who calls Oklahoma their home.
We urge Oklahoma voters to vote YES on SQ 820 on Tuesday, March 7th. Together, we can take a small step toward building a stronger, safer state for all.
To find your polling place or view your sample ballot, visit https://okvoterportal.okelections.us/.