Oklahoma smoked enough pot in one year to pay for 800 teachers

December 04, 2020 by G.W. Schulz

Tax dollars generated from Oklahoma’s budding cannabis industry are exploding even beyond the expectations of legalization supporters.

Tax dollars generated from Oklahoma’s budding cannabis industry are exploding, even beyond the expectations of legalization supporters. Backers of the 2018 medical marijuana referendum gave conservative revenue estimates and cautioned against fantasies of a tax windfall for education. The actual revenues are blowing away those estimates.

Two years after voters authorized State Question 788, the State cut a $42 million check to the Oklahoma Department of Education for the 2020 budget year, far exceeding any reasonable forecasts. This revenue was generated from Oklahoma’s seven-percent statewide excise tax on marijuana sales, plus fees from the hundreds of thousands of new patient and commercial license holders.

Above and beyond the education funding, the State earned enough from cannabis during the budget year to pay for the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA). The OMMA was created to implement the state’s medical cannabis initiative and fund substance-abuse treatment programs, as required by SQ 788. City and county governments are also generating tens of millions more from cannabis.

The tax take for Oklahoma doesn't end there, however. City and county governments are generating tens of millions more from cannabis, but it’s unclear right now how much those dollars must be dedicated to education and substance-abuse treatment.

To understand why these tax figures are bigger than expected, consider the state’s eye-popping cannabis sales figures. Analysts in 2018 estimated that Oklahoma cannabis sales might top $250 million annually within a few years. Those same analysts now believe cannabis sales in Oklahoma during 2020 will reach $800 million, more than double 2019 sales.

The number of licenses distributed in Oklahoma are also far exceeding expectations. The state’s total population is approximately four million people. Over 350,000 Oklahomans, nearly 1 in 10, now hold medical marijuana patient licenses. Another 7,000 people are licensed to grow and process marijuana in Oklahoma commercially, while 2,000 people hold licenses for marijuana retail sales at dispensaries.

Education officials have not yet specified how the $42 million will be spent, but they confirm it’s enough to pay for 800 teachers. That’s good news for a state suffering from a desperate shortage of teachers and education funding.

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