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A large bud grows on a marijuana plant in Oklahoma County. (Ben White)

A year after the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority began accepting applications for patient licenses, a majority of Oklahomans surveyed in a recent SoonerPoll still approve of the law, but by a slimmer margin than when it passed.

A SoonerPoll survey conducted in late July found 51 percent of those surveyed hold a favorable view of medical marijuana, while 41 percent have a negative view.

When SQ 788 went before voters in June 2018, it passed with 57 percent of the vote on election day. A SoonerPoll survey released one month prior to the election found 57.5 percent support.

“I think the bottom line is there has been a bit of a cooling toward medical marijuana with some voters,” said Bill Shapard, SoonerPoll founder. “Until we get the rules worked and determine how it’s going to impact our society, I think there are going to be people who are skeptical.”

Shapard said the industry’s rapid growth might be hurting its own public perception. The OMMA has issued more than 176,000 patient cards as of Aug. 13 along with about 1,700 dispensary licenses.

“I think it’s a combination of the state government having some issues at the beginning and the fact that some people drive down the street and see a dispensary on every corner and in every strip mall,” he said. “I think there are people who haven’t gotten used to that yet and may never get used to it.”

Still work to be done

Founded in 2014, Oklahomans for Health was part of a coalition of groups promoting the passage of SQ 788. Executive director Shelley Lynn said she wasn’t surprised by the results of Shapard’s poll.

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“The numbers don’t get me having talked to people around the state and hearing their responses,” she said. “If you’re not a marijuana person, you’re like, ‘What is this and who are these people bringing this to our city or town?’ There is still a lot of fear-mongering propaganda out there.”

Lynn said those in the industry have a vested interest in improving it.

“All things considered, it’s gone well,” she said. “The fact that it was an activist law that got onto a ballot and our people voted for it is a big accomplishment. Even though our government nearly sabotaged the program by poorly regulating it, there is self-regulating that is happening, and I think that’s something those involved in the industry take pride in.”

While Oklahomans now have access to medical marijuana and plenty of choices about where to purchase marijuana products, there is still work to be done.

“My biggest issues right now are unlawful arrests — which are happening — and individuals losing their children and the number of people sitting in prison today,” Lynn said. “All those things are still huge issues.”

Unity bill author pleased with implementation

Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada) chairs the Senate Rules Committee and served as the principle Senate author of the legislation creating the safety and regulatory framework to implement SQ 788. A year in, he said the state has delivered on what voters wanted.

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“I think we all knew it was going to be difficult to go from zero to 120 in a very short period of time,” he said. “I think given the timeline and how big the changes were for our state, it’s gone remarkably well.”

McCortney praised the OMMA’s efforts.

“I think the State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority have done their part of the transition incredibly well,” he said. “Getting it up and running and getting the licenses out and dealing with the changes and the software implementation and everything else they’ve had to go through, they’ve done it admirably.”

And while the number of dispensaries has grown rapidly, McCortney said he has heard few complaints.

“I hear from a lot of people that there are more medical marijuana license holders than anyone expected,” he said. “I hear people say it is a lot more like recreational than they thought it was going to be, for sure. But I really haven’t heard a lot of negative feedback.”

Recreational marijuana still unpopular

While Oklahomans approve of medical marijuana, the same SoonerPoll found less appetite among those surveyed for legalization of marijuana for recreational use. About 60 percent were opposed.

“The opposition has actually fallen about three points, and the support has gone up about five points, but it’s still not there yet,” Shapard said. “That question has been a really funny one polling-wise.”

McCortney said he doesn’t expect Oklahoma voters to approve recreational marijuana anytime soon.

“I think the only reason the state question got passed is because they called it medical marijuana,” he said.

Full SoonerPoll results