Opinion

OPINION | GREG HARTON: Legal marijuana does up in smoke in Oklahoma

For advocates of fully legalized marijuana, the people of Oklahoma delivered a real bummer last Tuesday.

Marijuana legalization has wafted across the country in the decade or so since Colorado and Washington in 2012 became the first states to claim the high ground on so-called recreational pot. It's legal in 21 states.

Only Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska have no provision for any sort of legal marijuana. Other states have some form of medical marijuana, ranging from tightly controlled to barely regulated.

I've never quite warmed to the whole "recreational" marijuana concept. It's not Pickleball, after all. It's a drug. I don't subscribe to the "reefer madness" paranoia that was drilled into people's heads for so long, but I also don't see it as this harmless over-the-counter product advocates have largely been able to market it as.

But the trend away from criminalizing marijuana to legalizing it for largely self-prescribed medicinal uses has helped to clear a path toward more acceptance of marijuana overall. Still, Oklahomans said no.

The Associated Press reported the anti-legalization interests -- such as faith groups and other conservatives -- were outspent 20 to 1 in the Oklahoma campaign to fully legalize marijuana use. And yet the legalization plans went up in smoke. Exactly why is anyone's guess, but the measure faced opposition from the state's governor and other GOP leaders. Former Republican Gov. Frank Keating, an ex-FBI agent, and Terri White, the former head of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, led the "no" campaign.

"We don't want a stoned society," Keating said last Monday before Election Day, flanked by district attorneys and law enforcement officers from across the state.

The move toward legalization has largely been an effort to convince everyday Americans that marijuana is no bigger deal than buying some wine or liquor down at the package store. It seems to me the case can be made that law enforcement against marijuana has probably been too aggressive at times, but Keating's remark seems like a pretty accurate evaluation of why legalization isn't all that desirable, either.

As with just about everything, it's money -- and not what's best for people -- that's driving the push for marijuana legalization. Medical marijuana became a reality in Arkansas because people became convinced it's a compassionate step for people whose ailments cause them pain. But going for full legalization suggests people in any condition are better off with marijuana than they are without it.

I doubt that's true.

Sure, an argument can be made that marijuana is safer than alcohol or that it can generate all sorts of tax revenue. Make those arguments if you'd like. They're strong enough pitches for the cause. But when I think of people in general and whether they're better off with or without marijuana in their lives, it seems a no-brainer that the latter is true. From a health standpoint, marijuana still presents dangers.

Arkansas voters rejected a recreational marijuana amendement to the state Constitution last November. State Sen. Joshua Bryant of Rogers has proposed in the current legislative session a resolution for a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for home growing and adult use. It's among dozens of amendments proposed, but the Legislature can only recommented three proposals every other year.

Given the Legislature's recent passage of House Bill 1419 by Cave Springs Rep. Kendon Underwood that increases, from 15 to 50, the number of counties signatures for a voter initiative must come from, prospects for a marijuana free-for-all in Arkansas may have to rely on a legislatively enacted measure like Bryant's to see the light of day.