Mississippians who are concerned by last month’s surprisingly wide approval of medical marijuana can take some comfort in knowing the state is not alone as it enters this market.
In fact, anyone who saw a headline last week on the politico.com website — “How One of the Reddest States Became the Nation’s Hottest Weed Market” — would be excused if they thought the story was about Mississippi.
The story actually was about Oklahoma, a “staunchly conservative state” where voters in 2018 OK’d a medical marijuana program. Politico reported that while Oklahoma may say the sale and use of marijuana is for medical purposes, it’s turned out to be far more available.
Oklahoma law, Politico said, sets few restrictions on who can buy marijuana for medical purposes. Local governments can’t ban marijuana businesses.
Startup costs are low: A business license costs just $2,500. There is no limit to the number of business licenses the state can sell, which means an ample supply of the drug and lower prices through competition. Land, energy and building materials also are relatively cheap.
The result is predictable: “Oklahoma is now the biggest medical marijuana market in the country on a per capita basis,” Politico reported. More than 360,000 Oklahomans — nearly 10% of the population — have acquired medical marijuana cards over the last two years. ... Last month, sales since 2018 surpassed $1 billion.
“To meet that demand, Oklahoma has more than 9,000 licensed marijuana businesses, including nearly 2,000 dispensaries and almost 6,000 grow operations. In comparison, Colorado — the country’s oldest recreational marijuana market, with a population almost 50 percent larger than Oklahoma — has barely half as many licensed dispensaries and less than 20 percent as many grow operations.”
It’s no surprise that this free-market approach has occurred somewhere in America, a nation that time and again proves its determination to get high on something. Caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, opioids, lotteries and casinos are the legal options, and marijuana appears to be elbowing its way onto that list, as 35 states have approved use of the drug in some form.
The surprise is that all this is occurring in Oklahoma, which really does have a lot in common with Mississippi.
Politico reports, “Oklahoma imprisons more people on a per-capita basis than just about any other state in the country, many of them non-violent drug offenders sentenced to lengthy terms behind bars.” Sound familiar?
But that punitive streak apparently has been overwhelmed by two other elements of American culture: A laid-back attitude about drug use and a preference for easy capitalism.
Or, as one longtime marijuana grower who saw opportunity in Oklahoma and moved to the state quipped, “Turns out rednecks love to smoke weed.” Mississippians would have to admit that one sounds familiar, too.
Mississippi’s medical marijuana law is immensely more restrictive than Oklahoma’s, where Politico says a person literally can get a card for the purchase of medical marijuana by claiming they need it to relieve the pain of a stubbed toe. In Mississippi, patients must be diagnosed with one of 22 serious illnesses.
But Mississippi should keep an eye on revenue. In Oklahoma, marijuana sales generated $105 million in state and local taxes in the past 10 months.
Other potential problems never developed: Illegal sales are relatively rare, Politico reported, and the low cost of getting in business has made corruption “all but unnecessary.”
This is emphatically not written to advocate an Oklahoma-style marijuana market in Mississippi.
But the differences between the two states’ approaches definitely bears watching.