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Marijuana industry exploded in Oklahoma. Why not Texas?

In 2018, nearly 57% of Oklahoma voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana. And since then, the industry has exploded.
Credit: AP
In this Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020 file photo, marijuana plants are pictured at Baker Medical in Oklahoma City. Numbers from the Oklahoma Tax Commission show sales of medical marijuana in Oklahoma are continuing to smash records. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki, File)

DALLAS — If you’re a Texan who thinks marijuana is only available in liberal cities and states, the reality on your doorstep is much different. Oklahoma considers itself the reddest state in the nation. And it is now one of the largest producers of marijuana in the country, poised to lead the global industry into the future.

An Oklahoma Republican behind the bill that would expand the industry beyond medical marijuana and legalize the product (HB 3754) says his fellow Republicans should view it no differently than they view guns.

“We conservatives, for example, when we talk about gun policy, we talk about the more restrictions you put on guns, the more you hurt law-abiding citizens and criminals don’t care what kind of laws you put, or regulations you put, on firearms. Well, marijuana is not unlike that same situation,” Rep. Scott Fetgatter said on the latest episode of Y’all-itics.

In 2018, nearly 57% of Oklahoma voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana. And since then, the industry has exploded. By some estimates, it’s grown much larger than operations in states you may more readily associate with marijuana, such as California. But that’s also led to some big problems as the lack of regulation that allowed the growth in the first place is now struggling to keep up.

Listen to the latest episode of Y'all-itics here:

Rep. Fetgatter says truckloads of marijuana get driven across the Red River into Texas and he estimates that Oklahoma weed may now make up a third of all illicit marijuana sold in the eastern part of the United States. Another bill he filed, HB 3734, would change licensing rules in an attempt to improve regulation. This is vital, he says, because the genie isn’t going back into the bottle and marijuana will never be illegal again.

“The more information you get, the better opportunity you have to stop criminal activity. With that being said, the more access people have, the less criminal activity you have. And so, I relate it a lot to this is our generation’s prohibition on alcohol,” said the Republican from Okmulgee.

According the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Association (OMMA), there are currently 8,137 growers in the state of Oklahoma, 2,232 dispensaries, 1,508 processors and 29 laboratories. All told, there are more than 12,000 businesses associated with Oklahoma’s medical marijuana industry. The OMMA also says the industry produced around $150 million dollars in tax revenue last year alone. And $53 Million went into education.

Rep. Fetgatter says during the 2018 vote, more than nine out of 10 voters in his most conservative precinct backed State Question 788.

“Conservative Republicans, they utilize marijuana just like anybody else does,” said Rep. Fetgatter. “When you look at the state of Oklahoma, 10% of our population has a medical marijuana card.”

Business owners associated with the industry have seen the good and the bad. Kimberly Moore served as a general manager of one dispensary, VP of operations at another. In her current business, she helps patients get their medical marijuana cards. She’s been on the ground since the beginning.

“Most people are doing things on the up and up. But there are some who aren’t. And there are always going to be loopholes,” Moore said. “So, speaking to people in the industry who are doing this every day, working with growers, working with patients, working with processors, speaking with folks like us, finding out those loopholes and closing those loopholes I think would be a major advancement.”

Adding more guardrails on the industry is a priority for Oklahoma lawmakers. Governor Kevin Stitt even called for stronger regulation in his annual State of the State address earlier this month. While Moore agrees there’s a need for some better rules, she doesn’t want lawmakers to go too far and ultimately harm the industry.

“They can’t roll it back, but I’m afraid they will put so many obstacles in the way that it will be death by a thousand prohibition cuts, that’s what I’m afraid of,” she said.

Rep. Scott Fetgatter has a message for Texas Republicans. Hear it in our latest episode of Y’all-itics. Cheers!

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