The night Oklahoma voted to legalize medical marijuana, I saw a long-haired man running through the alleyway behind an Oklahoma City bar, pumping his fists in the air in a kind of hippy victory dance.
Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with marijuana leaves, a few bar patrons at the State Question 788 watch party let out whoops of joy and cries of “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”
I saw tears well up in the eyes of SQ 788 supporter Zora Braun as she told me how marijuana helped her get off prescription drugs for chronic pain.
“I was going to move to Colorado next week if it didn’t pass,” Braun told me, wearing a glow-in-the dark pot leaf necklace.
But for the most part, it was a subdued crowd on election night, as if girding itself for the battle ahead.
Bud Scott, chairman of the trade organization for Oklahoma’s medical cannabis industry, New Health Solutions Oklahoma, which formed in 2017, said the group already expects pushback from state government on when the new law can take effect and restrictions on dispensaries. Gov. Mary Fallin said on Tuesday night she would be “discussing with legislative leaders and state agencies our options going forward on how best to proceed with adding a medical and proper regulatory framework to make sure marijuana use is truly for valid medical illnesses.”
Scott said he believes 100 to 150 days is plenty of time to finalize rules and implementation, but the state could try to stall the process for as long as a year. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has proposed rules that would require medical marijuana dispensaries to remain closed on Sundays, something the industry will push back on, Scott said.
“The next steps and the implementation process are critical,” Scott said.
Robert Cox, owner of the Norman store The Friendly Market told me the passage of SQ 788 had renewed his faith in Oklahoma. The shop sells various smoking devices and bongs but was forced to shut down a few years ago after a series of police raids — and that was just for selling glass pipes.
One year ago, a Cleveland County jury acquitted Cox on a felony charge of acquiring proceeds from drug activity and 12 counts of possession of drug paraphernalia for selling glass pipes at The Friendly Market. He’s since reopened the store and with the passage of 788, Cox and other store owners are now mulling the possibility of becoming legal medical marijuana dispensaries.
“It shows a humanity that is the foundation for any state you want to live in.” Cox said.
The opposition group SQ 788 is Not Medical spent more than $1.1 million on media buys, direct mail and social media in the final weeks leading up to the vote.
Opposition from the business community and law enforcement was a formidable force for State Question 788 to overcome.
“We overcame a well-funded opposition with basically nothing but grassroots support,” Scott said.
A few people sent me screenshots of emails their employers had sent out in advance of the vote — urging their employees to vote against 788. Some employers forwarded anti-788 literature drafted by the Oklahoma City and Tulsa chambers of commerce, both of which were against the measure.
On the morning of the election, Harold Hamm, Oklahoma’s richest man and chairman and CEO of Continental Resources Inc., sent out a company-wide email urging employees to vote against 788.
“This act will basically legalize all forms of recreational marijuana use in Oklahoma,” Hamm and Jack Stark, Continental Resources president said in the email, according to a screenshot I obtained. “Because of SQ 788’s negative impact on businesses and our state, I encourage you to vote No on State Question 788.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Bud Scott, Executive director of New Health Solutions Oklahoma. The organization formed in 2017.