Oklahoma is the nation’s biggest medical marijuana market on a per capita basis. More than 360,000 Oklahomans—nearly 10 percent of the state’s population—have acquired medical marijuana cards over two years. By comparison, New Mexico has the second most popular program, with about five percent of residents obtaining medical cards. Last month, sales since 2018 surpassed $1 billion, Politico reports. To meet its demand, Oklahoma has more than 9,000 licensed marijuana businesses, including nearly 2,000 dispensaries and almost 6,000 grow operations. Colorado, the oldest U.S. recreational marijuana market, with a population almost 50 percent larger than Oklahoma—has barely half as many licensed dispensaries and 20 percent as many grow operations.
In Ardmore, Ok., a town of 25,000 in the oil patch near the Texas border, there are 36 licensed dispensaries—one for every 700 residents. In neighboring Wilson (pop. 1,695), state officials have issued 32 cultivation licenses, meaning one of 50 residents can legally grow weed. What is happening in Oklahoma is almost unprecedented among 35 states that have legalized marijuana in some form since California voters backed medical marijuana in 1996. Not only has its market growth outstripped more established state programs but it is happening in a state that has stood out for opposition to drug use. Oklahoma imprisons more people on a per-capita basis than just about any other state, many of them non-violent drug offenders serving lengthy terms. That has been overwhelmed by two other strands of culture—a live-and-let-live attitude about drug use and a powerful preference for laissez-faire capitalism. “Turns out rednecks love to smoke weed,”, says Oklahoma cannabis grower Chip Baker. “That’s the thing about cannabis: It really bridges socio-economic gaps. The only other thing that does it is handguns. All types of people are into firearms. All types of people are into cannabis.” Oklahoma has established arguably the only free-market marijuana industry in the U.S.