Oklahoma’s Second Thoughts about Marijuana

Oklahoma’s Second Thoughts about Marijuana March 10, 2023

Here in Oklahoma, we voted on legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.  The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated, with 62% voting “no” to 38% voting “yes.”

I was somewhat surprised, since marijuana is everywhere in this, the reddest, most conservative state in the union.  As I’ve blogged about, in 2018 Oklahomans in a similar referendum by a similar overwhelming margin of 57% legalized medical marijuana.

But the measure’s language allowed licenses on the basis of the individual’s own opinion–not any kind of specific disorder or diagnosis–that marijuana would be of medical benefit.  (A doctor is supposed to sign the application, but dispensaries have them on the payroll and you can take care of that online.  I’ve never heard of anyone being refused.)  So what we have now is, in effect, licensed recreational marijuana.

Some 400,000 Oklahomans have licenses that allow them to buy medical marijuana.  That’s about 10% of the population. That’s the largest per capita rate in the country.

Furthermore, the law legalizing medical marijuana allowed for virtually anyone to get a license to grow the weed and to sell the weed.  You can get a permit to go into the marijuana business for just $2,500.  You can put it on your credit card.

So we now have some 12,000 licensed marijuana businesses.  Of those, 3,000 are dispensaries.  That comes to an average of 39 per county.  These are not just to be found in the cities or college towns.  Our tiny rural communities used to consist of a grain elevator, a gas station, and a Baptist church, but today they will also have a marijuana dispensary.  Where we live, a small rural town of under 6,000, we have, at last count, three.

But even more concerning, we have more than twice as many–7,000–growing operations.  That comes to an average of 90 per county.  On any drive through the countryside, you can see the distinctive white plastic greenhouses surrounded by tall metal fences.  Growers are occupying the top floors of small town business districts.  Where I live, we have at least three grow operations in the city limits, including one about a block from our house.

And who is growing all of this weed?  Mostly Chinese nationals.  (What’s with that?  How are they getting visas?)  They reportedly show up with suitcases of cash to buy farms from hard-pressed farmers, insisting that the farmer has his name on the license to get around the state-citizen ownership requirement, but they will take care of the rest.   You never see the workers shopping at WalMart or any local businesses.  They live in trailers or outbuildings in the compounds.  Authorities have raided some of these to find horrible conditions and human trafficking.  In Hennessey, population 2,000, four Chinese nationals were “executed” by the overlord who “invested” in their operation.

All of this bears the mark of the Chinese tong, the Chinese equivalent of the Mafia.  And there are other links to organized crime in the Oklahoma marijuana industry.  We also have Hispanic-led operations with ties to Mexican drug cartels.

Also, the 7,000 farms produce far more weed than can be sold in the 3,000 dispensaries.  Though selling out of state is illegal, Oklahoma has become the top supplier of black market marijuana for the rest of the country.

In this last election, the pro-recreational side put on a big campaign, with flyers, mailings, and text messages urging Oklahomans to vote yes so that veterans afflicted with post-traumatic stress syndrome could get the medication they need, since V.A. doctors can’t prescribe what the federal government still lists as an illegal drug.  As if that were a hindrance!  No practicing physician “prescribes” marijuana in Oklahoma.  Any medical benefits of marijuana should be tested and approved by the FDA, whereupon the drug should be sold in pharmacies like any other medicine, not in wide-open “dispensaries.”  The ads also touted a yes vote as an educational bill, to raise millions for schools.  Nothing was said about any social benefit to making marijuana use more widespread than it already is.

I didn’t see any anti-recreational ads, though perhaps there were some.  I heard that the Baptists had come out against the referendum.  But Oklahomans apparently voted as they did because they recognize how bad it has gotten.

After the big push that has legalized recreational use of the drug in 21 states, approval has slowed down.  Voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota voted “no” in the November elections, though Maryland and Missouri (no less!) voted “yes.”

The Atlantic–which is far from being a conservative or Christian publication, being progressive to the core–has an excellent article by Matthew Loftus entitled America Has Gone Too Far in Legalizing Vice.  He documents the array of social and psychological problems that legalized drug use and also legalized gambling are creating.

(Gambling is another huge issue for Oklahoma, which has 143 casinos, second only to Nevada, thanks to all of our Indian tribes, whose land is not subject to state law and so are immune from anti-gambling laws.  We have eight in our county. Loftus says that 50% of the revenue from casinos comes from “problem gamblers.”)

As Loftus shows, permissive laws tend to operate from the assumption that human beings make rational decisions for themselves, whereas the reality tends to be very different:

If we think that human beings—especially young people who are forming the habits that will last a lifetime—tend to make decisions based on what they have reasoned to be their best interests, then legalization makes sense. If life is a series of contracts we enter into freely, then there’s no reason to keep potential harms off our smartphone or out of storefront dispensaries. However, this way of seeing the world overlooks the fact that our hearts and minds are shaped not only by reason but also by our experiences, affections, and, most important, our habits, which are just as often inexplicably self-destructive as they are reasonable.

As a Christian view of our fallen human nature makes clear.

To be sure, as we learn in Matthew 15: 10-20, it isn’t what goes into our bodies that defiles us, but what comes out of our hearts.  But some of these “vices” do affect our hearts and what we do.  And, though we tend to look at such behavior in individualistic terms, they can also be a plague on communities and on society as a whole.


Photo:  A legal marijuana grow in Longdale, Oklahoma. (KOKH)

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