OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Marijuana is Oklahoma’s ballooning cash crop, and its industry’s growth in the state may surprise you.
Over the last year up until the end of November, medical marijuana brought in around $138 million in revenue. Another thing is it’s easy for people to start grows and businesses in the industry compared to other states. There are 45,000 employees in the industry statewide, and with cheaper licenses and land, it’s brought in thousands of grow operations.
“It appears that the industry in Oklahoma is booming,” said Kelsey Pagonis with the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority.
The number backing that claim would be the revenue. Pagonis also said the free-market system is fueled by just under 9,000 grow operations and around 2,500 dispensaries across the Sooner State.
“It was put in place as a free market system,” Pagonis said. “So, the rules and regulations that have been built upon that are in place to foster this and [the] free market system.”
It runs about $2,500 to get a grower’s license in Oklahoma and you have to renew it every year. According to the New York Times, that’s compared to about $100,000 in neighboring Arkansas and upwards of $50 million in Connecticut, which has a similar population size to Oklahoma.
KFOR was told it appears there has been a steady increase in commercial licensing at times, but near the end of the years 2019, 2020 and 2021, there was a dip in licensing.
“It looks like it can become a cyclical industry,” Pagonis said.
In the same New York Times article, it states that Oklahoma has also passed California for the most licensed grow farms despite having only a tenth of its population. Also, a sign of the industry’s continuing growth is that 10 percent of Oklahoma’s roughly 4 million residents have a medical card, which is more than any other state.
“We do what we can to support those who are here,” Pagonis said. “We’re working to constantly improve that support and provide better resources for them.”
However, with rapid growth comes issues. Oklahoma is approaching its fourth year in having the industry. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Narcotics said originally, within the first couple years, they had very little interaction with it. But that’s changed. While business may be booming, the State Bureau of Narcotics said it’s keeping them busy.
“People were, for the most part, following the rules, doing everything right,” said Mark Woodward, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.
In 2020, during the pandemic, that all started to change. Woodward said people were losing their jobs all over as states shut down.
“We weren’t shut down very long,” Woodward said. “So, a lot of them started looking at Oklahoma.”
Woodward said the cheaper land and looser regulations brought them and their grow operations here to the sooner state.
“Suddenly, there was five, 10, 55, 150 grow houses almost overnight,” Woodward said. “Literally within two to three weeks.”
A lot of the workers were illegally in the U.S. and their businesses were illegally obtaining licenses. Woodward added that a lot of them were also run by criminal organizations who shipped marijuana all over for more money. Woodward said they have shut down 85 grow farms since April 2021 and have open investigations in all 77 counties. He claims, right now, Oklahoma is considered by their law enforcement partners across the nation as “the number one source state” in dealing with marijuana.
“The last 18 months have been very, very difficult for our agency,” Woodward said. “It’s going to continue to stay very busy for us.”
Despite the problems, both the OMMA, as they’re called, and Bureau of Narcotics are working to stop the illegal side of things. The bureau of narcotics said they have hired nearly 20 agents to keep an eye on the industry, so they don’t have to pull other agents of cases dealing with other drugs. Meanwhile, the medical marijuana authority has hired over 30 more compliance inspectors.
Pagonis said they plan to inspect all licensed businesses this year, while also working more closely with the bureau of narcotics.
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