What’s next for cannabis legalization after 21st recreational state?

Mar 9, 2023, 8:44 AM

FILE - Flags with a marijuana leaf wave outside the Connecticut State Capitol building, Tuesday, Ap...

FILE - Flags with a marijuana leaf wave outside the Connecticut State Capitol building, Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in Hartford, Conn. Connecticut's first round of retail cannabis sales for adults 21 and older was set to begin Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, morning at seven existing medical marijuana establishments across the state, less than two years after Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation making Connecticut the latest state to legalize recreational sales.(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

(AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

In just over a decade since voters approved state constitutional amendments to make recreational marijuana legal in Colorado and Washington, 19 other states have followed suit.

But voters in Oklahoma, where faith leaders, law enforcement and most of the state’s GOP leaders campaigned against legalization, on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have legalized it.

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Oregon also saw legalization ballot measures fail before being adopted in later votes.

Here’s a look at what happened in Oklahoma this week, and where marijuana legalization stands across the U.S.


Anti-legalization groups were outspent by a 20-to-1 margin but their message still carried the day when recreational marijuana for people 21 and over was the only item on the statewide ballot.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and much of the state’s Republican leadership joined the effort to defeat State Question 820, which was added to the ballot following a signature drive last year by Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws. The question was moved from the November ballot to March because of legal challenges and a delay in counting signatures.

Supporters spent nearly $5 million, according to campaign finance reports.

Prospective sellers were bullish in part because Oklahoma’s neighbor Texas has a huge population and no legal marijuana. The Dallas-Fort Worth area is a little more than an hour from the border. The state would have reaped a 15% excise tax on sales on top of the standard sales tax. Portions of the extra revenue would have been used to boost local governments, the court system, public schools and substance abuse treatment.


The state kicked off a medical marijuana program after voters approved one in 2018 over objections from law-enforcement and religious leaders.

The program is one of the nation’s most liberal.

There are more than 2,800 licensed dispensaries and nearly 10% of the state’s 4 million residents have medical licenses to buy and consume cannabis.


Twenty-one states, mostly in the West and Northeast, have legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults.

They are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In Maryland, legal sales have not yet begun and in Missouri, they launched in February. Voters in both states approved legalization measures last year.

Most other states have either medical cannabis programs or laws allowing for sales and use of CBD, one of the chemical compounds in the plant.

Only Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska have no legal use of any component of marijuana.

The drug also remains illegal under federal law, though President Joe Biden is pardoning thousands of people for federal marijuana possession convictions and has directed officials to review how marijuana is categorized under federal law. It’s currently listed as Schedule I, alongside heroin and LSD, and more serious than methamphetamine and fentanyl.


There are already pushes to put legalization on the ballot this year in Ohio and in 2024 in Florida and Nebraska, where past measures have not made the ballot because of constitutional concerns or a failure to get enough signatures.

There are also pushes to legalize recreational marijuana without needing to go to voters, an approach that has succeeded in other states.

This week, Hawaii’s state Senate passed a bill, though it’s not certain it will have a vote in the House.

The Delaware House passed a legalization measure Tuesday and is considering one to allow sales and regulate them. The Senate would still have to weight in.

The New Hampshire House last month passed a legalization bill.

A bill has also been working through the Legislature in Minnesota, where Gov. Tim Walz has pledged to a sign a legalization measure if lawmakers pass it.


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What’s next for cannabis legalization after 21st recreational state?