Daily Camera (Boulder)

Pot vote has Oklahoma hungry to rake in green from Texas

- By Sean Murphy The Associated Press

Tens of thousands of Texans from the bustling Dallas-fort Worth area routinely drive across the Red River to gamble in glitzy, Las Vegasstyle tribal casinos or to relax at cabins or swim and ski in lakes that dot southern Oklahoma.

Soon, they could come north for another draw: recreation­al marijuana.

Oklahoma voters will decide Tuesday whether to approve a ballot measure that legalizes consuming the plant for adults 21 and older. The conservati­ve state already has one of the nation’s most robust medical marijuana programs, and industry proponents hope an influx of Texas consumers will be a boon for a market that’s become saturated.

“There are thousands and thousands of Texans who are increasing­ly coming to Oklahoma as a tourist destinatio­n,” said Ryan Kiesel, a former state lawmaker and one of the organizers of State Question 820. “I want to be able to sell legal, regulated and taxed marijuana to those Texans over the age of 21, and take their tax dollars and invest them in Oklahoma schools and Oklahoma

health care.”

The population of the booming Dallas-fort Worth metroplex alone — closing in on 8 million people — is nearly double that of the entire state of Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is expected to see an increase of $1.8 billion in recreation­al sales that would generate about $434 million in excise tax revenue alone from 2024 to 2028 if the measure passes, according to an economic impact study sponsored by the cannabis industry. By far the largest number of out-of-state consumers would be from Texas, followed by Arkansas and Kansas, the report shows.

Oklahoma already has one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license. Unlike most other states, Oklahoma has no list of qualifying medical conditions, allows patients to get a recommenda­tion from a doctor online, and gives licenses that are valid for two years.

Supporters of SQ 820 initially tried to get the question on the November ballot, but a delay in verifying the signatures led to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt calling for a special election just for that proposal.

People in the industry say Oklahoma’s low barrier to entry led to thousands of licensed growers, processors and dispensary operators competing for a limited number of patients. While inflation is causing the cost of many products to go up, marijuana prices at dispensari­es have plummeted, and many operators are going out of business. A website for cannabisre­lated sales shows thousands of Oklahoma grow operations and dispensari­es up for sale.

“They allowed for a freemarket cannabis industry, and that’s what everyone wanted, but now we need more customers,” said Chip Baker, a grower who also runs a marijuana garden supply shop in Oklahoma City. “There needs to be an influx of people here to buy this product. It’s just simple math.”

Kevin Pattah, a Michigan native who came to Oklahoma to get into the cannabis business, now operates six Mango Cannabis retail locations across the state. He said the price of 1-gram cartridges of marijuana concentrat­e that retailed for $60-$70 in 2019 is now going for $20. Prices for marijuana flower and other products also have plunged.

“There’s so much product on the market, and there’s only so much demand. It hurts everyone,” said Pattah, whose dispensary features a prominent digital screen with a countdown to Tuesday’s vote. “We’ve felt the heat as well.

“Our average ticket was $130 at one point. Now they’re spending an average of $60. So, it’s less than half now.”

Pattah said the expansion of legalized sales in Michigan in 2018 was a huge boon to medical operators in that state, particular­ly those who ran dispensari­es near its border with Ohio and Indiana.

While many in Oklahoma’s

cannabis industry are eager for recreation­al sales, opponents include a group of clergy, law enforcemen­t and prosecutor­s led by former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, an EX-FBI agent. Current Gov. Kevin Stitt and nearly all the Republican­s in the Oklahoma Senate also have announced their opposition.

Opponents cite an increase in the amount of Oklahoma marijuana being exported out of state and sold on the black market, as well as criminal activity associated with some marijuana grows, including the execution-style slayings of four Chinese nationals at an illegal marijuana farm in rural Oklahoma.

“SQ 820 throws a match into the middle of what already is a powder keg in rural Oklahoma,” said Logan County Sheriff Damon Devereaux, president of the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Associatio­n.

Not everyone in law enforcemen­t is overly concerned about legalized marijuana. Sheriff Ray Sappington in Cooke County, Texas, which borders Oklahoma and includes a major north-south interstate, I-35, said that while his deputies may end up arresting more people for bringing marijuana into Texas from Oklahoma, it’s not his top priority.

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