The process of rolling out medical marijuana laws has typically taken years for most states. California was the first to introduce provisions back in the late 90s, and was one of the pioneers of the medical cannabis movement. But in 2019, only 33 states have legalized the drug medically. New York is a prime example, where an exhaustive campaign for MMJ legalization has resulted in a stalemate of sorts, with neither side coming out on top. Other states have also seen legalization move at a glacial pace. Oklahoma, however, has proved to be an exception. MMJ laws have moved through the state at lightning pace, with the program largely established statewide since MMJ was approved in June 2018. Legalizing medical marijuana in Oklahoma has proved to be a surprisingly straightforward task; but will it bring in more money?
The laws introduced last June have proved to be some of the most liberal in the whole country. While other states have flip-flopped over the technicalities of dispensary numbers and smoking in public, Oklahoma has provided some of the most lenient guidelines to date. This is especially surprising seeing as Oklahoma has a reputation for being one of the nation’s more conservative states. Conversely, New York, with its more liberal reputation, has set up one of the most conservative MMJ programs so far. Even though consensus might have expected the reverse, Oklahoma has proved to be an MMJ hotbed, with business positively booming and showing no signs of slowing down.
Retail outlets in the state opened just four months after the new Oklahoma MMJ laws were put through. Entrepreneurs and farmers were soon clamoring to start commercial growing operations. Licenses and MMJ cards are being issued to new patients at a frenetic pace, with the industry coming into its own completely independently. This stands in stark contrast to Oklahoma’s neighboring state of Ohio. They approved MMJ all the way back in 2016, but have yet to actually sell any officially. This is largely due to legal setbacks and manoeuvring. Even California, with its trailblazing record on the marijuana front, has not been able to roll out its plan as quickly and effectively as advocates hoped.
One of the keys to the rapid success of medical marijuana in Oklahoma is that lawmakers have not introduced a list of qualifying conditions. This list dictates which medical conditions can qualify legally for MMJ. Virtually every other state has them. By leaving these out, Oklahoma’s governors have expedited the applications process, opening the doors to thousands of residents as a result. 22,000 applications were approved in the six-month period following the legalization bill. Thousands more followed through in 2019. Close to a thousand dispensaries have opened up, and over a thousand commercial growers have been licensed. In other words, business is booming.
All this business is great news for Oklahoma’s government. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of tax have already been collected thanks to MMJ, with much more set to come rolling in as the program expands. A 7% portion of every medical marijuana sale goes to the state, with around $5 million of MMJ being sold since it was introduced last June. The government recently announced plans to first put a portion of this revenue back into the health department’s regulatory office budget. After that, 75% will be applied to education, while the remaining 25% will fund drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs. This is great news for Oklahoma, who are proving just how valuable legalizing medical marijuana can be to states as a previously untapped stream of revenue.
In addition, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority is also seeing a huge upswing in revenue. The number of applicants for MMJ cards keeps on rising. As of February this year, the OMMA had taken a huge $13.2 million dollars in application fees. This money will be put back into the program, meaning more resources, staff, and initiatives for Oklahoma’s burgeoning MMJ scene. Combined with the Oklahoma MMJ tax, the state is setting an impressive standard for both efficiency and profitability in the MMJ arena. Other states, many of whom are stalling on their MMJ rollout and are seeing no taxation benefit because of it, will likely sit up and take notice.
The will of the people is clearly at work in Oklahoma. Although it’s considered a conservative state, when the idea of medical marijuana was put to vote, the right-leaning politicians in the state had to reassess their viewpoints. After the initial June ballot, which passed MMJ laws overwhelmingly, the Oklahoma State Board of Health attempted to introduce a series of restrictive measures. This was met with outrage from the general public. They rightly criticized their government for immediately trying to backtrack on a democratic vote with a clear majority. Even the state’s Republican Attorney General weighed in with an opinion that the Board of Health had gone too far.
As new patient numbers continue to rise and the government continues to see success from its MMJ taxation policy, we can all expect the success of medical marijuana in Oklahoma to continue. Hopefully other states will look to imitate OK’s rapid and effective implementation, opening the MMJ doors to more and more potential patients all over the country.