Marijuana advocates file SQ 811 aiming to legalize recreational use, protect medicinal industry in Oklahoma

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A petition filed Wednesday by Oklahomans working in the marijuana industry seeks to legalize marijuana for recreational use while protecting medicinal marijuana businesses from excess regulation and competition.

According to the Tulsa World, a group of marijuana advocates filed State Question 811 on Wednesday in response to a previous legalization petition, which the group says would not fully protect the medical marijuana industry in Oklahoma. The group, which calls itself "We Are 788," includes several representatives of the medical marijuana industry. 

According to the text of the petition, SQ 811 would allow the use of marijuana by people over 18, subject to a 25 percent excise tax. Medical marijuana sales, in contrast, would "be exempt from ALL taxes." 

The measure also includes a long list of proposed changes, easing the burden on already-licensed dispensaries and growers to meet new regulations added in August by the Unity Bill. It would require new applicants for Oklahoma recreational dispensary or growing licenses to have five years’ residency within the last 10 years — a stricter standard than that imposed for medical marijuana, according to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority

In December, a separate group filed SQ 807, which, like SQ 811, presents a plan to legalize marijuana in Oklahoma. Michelle Tilley and Ryan Kiesel, the two official petitioners according to NonDoc, revised their initial filing after public outcry to make it "crystal clear that this program does not adversely affect the current Oklahoma medical marijuana industry or its patients." 

SQ 807 would allow marijuana consumption by users over 21, subject to a 15 percent excise tax. According to the text of the petition, it allows for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority to issue licenses for marijuana sales separately from the medicinal marijuana licensing process — and not subject to the same limitations on Oklahoma residency.

Since the legalization of medical marijuana in 2018, new dispensaries have sprouted throughout the state. A recent report by Verilife, a dispensary chain with locations in several states, reveals that Oklahoma has the second-most dispensaries per capita, comparable to states with well-established industries such as Oregon and Colorado. Norman is the 15th-highest city in the country for dispensaries per capita, and Moore and Edmond are both in the top 10.

When SQ 788 passed in 2018 to legalize medical marijuana, it placed few limitations on users. According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, a medical card only requires a doctor's permission, with no list of allowed conditions and no requirement for patients to follow up with the doctor. 

But it came with a long list of conditions for dispensary owners to meet. According to the state medical marijuana authority, growers, processors and dispensaries must be owned and operated by Oklahoma residents. 

Activist Zora Braun told The Oklahoman that if a recreational marijuana measure such as SQ 807 doesn't include similar regulatory protections, it would open Oklahoma's dispensaries up to national competition. 

According to a press release by Tilley and Kiesel quoted in NonDoc, SQ 807 "is backed by stakeholders in Oklahoma and New Approach PAC, a national marijuana reform organization that has managed successful ballot initiative campaigns to legalize medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana in multiple other states." 

But since SQ 807 does not include any requirement that dispensaries and production companies must be locally owned, Braun told The Oklahoman that the measure would cause many dispensaries to go out of business, outcompeted by more efficient companies from outside the state.

Oklahoma already raises less tax revenue from marijuana sales than any other state with legal marijuana — only $70,000, according to Verilife's report. Medical marijuana is currently taxed at 7 percent by the state of Oklahoma. 

The tax increases in both the proposed measures would be split between funding schools and helping people convicted for marijuana offenses or drug addiction rehabilitate, according to the texts of the measures.

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