OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said she respects voters’ wishes but is concerned that Tuesday’s approval of medical marijuana in the state “opens the door” for recreational use.
Voters easily approved a measure allowing cannabis to be used as medicine in the traditionally conservative state. The term-limited Republican governor said she and other state officials are responsible for public health and safety, and that they’ll work to determine how to add proper regulatory framework for medical marijuana.
“I believe, as well as many Oklahomans, this new law is written so loosely that it opens the door for basically recreational marijuana,” Fallin said in a statement late Tuesday after election results were clear.
Oklahoma’s was the first marijuana question on a state ballot in the U.S. in 2018, with elections scheduled for later this year in Michigan and Utah. Voters in neighboring Arkansas legalized the drug for medical use in 2016, but Oklahoma is among the most conservative states to approve its use.
Voters came out in droves to vote on the issue, which made it onto Oklahoma’s ballot through a signature drive. The Oklahoma State Election Board says more votes were cast on the marijuana question than in the 2014 general election.
State health officials will meet July 10 to consider emergency rules for the new Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
In Oklahoma City, 33-year-old Meaghan Hunt said she cast her vote in favor of legalization because she views marijuana as another form of treatment for patients with various ailments. She said she wants them to have as many options as possible.
She also believes state coffers could benefit from the cash marijuana crops would deliver.
“I’d like to see more taxable revenue coming into our state and if that’s an opportunity to collect taxes, all the better — hopefully for education,” Hunt said.
Attitudes have shifted sharply on marijuana in recent decades in Oklahoma, especially among young people, said Bill Shapard, a pollster who has surveyed Oklahomans on the issue for more than five years.
“I’ve found almost half of all Republicans support it, so that’s going to take an awful lot of money and an awful lot of organized opposition for this to lose on Election Day,” Shapard said.
Oklahoma’s tough-on-crime ideology also has come at a cost, with the state’s skyrocketing prison population consuming a larger share of the state’s limited funding. In 2016, voters approved a state question to make any drug possession crime a misdemeanor, despite opposition to that proposal from law enforcement and prosecutors.
Associated Press writer Adam Kealoha Causey contributed to this report.