Oklahoma voters soundly defeated a measure to legalize marijuana in the state this week, a result officials said came from the efforts of a faith community highly motivated to reject the growing acceptance of the drug in society.
On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly knocked down a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana by a margin of 61.7% to 38.3%, with the measure failing in each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.
A newspaper ad campaign had urged readers to block legalization, declaring "Don't California Our Oklahoma."
"The faith community, I believe, and of course, I've got an iron in the fire on this, but I believe the faith community was a major player in what happened here," Paul Abner, president of Oklahoma Faith Leaders, told Fox News Digital.
Abner, whose group represents six Christian denominations including Baptists, Catholics, and Nazarenes, said that the widest margin he had seen from pollsters before the vote was 3% and that "you can’t quantify" the impact the faith community has in the state.
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"They came out and let their voice be heard," Abner said.
Republican Sen. James Lankford told Fox News Digital that the "decisive" victory came after Oklahoma families, many of them families of faith, asked themselves whether more marijuana will make their lives better.
"Are we better as a state if we have more families smoking marijuana? And they made the decision no," Lankford said, adding that Oklahoma already has a "tremendous" amount of medical marijuana facilities.
Oklahoma has more medical marijuana stores than Colorado, Washington and Oregon combined and more licensed cannabis farms than California, the New York Times reported.
Despite that, Lankford said the marijuana industry insisted on even more with this ballot measure, but Oklahomans rejected that idea.
"A lot of people in our faith community are like no, this is not helping our families, it's making it worse."
"These days, we sadly see many people turning to drugs, we see families affected by substance abuse," Brian Hobbs, communications director for Oklahoma Baptists which represents more than 1,700 churches in Oklahoma, told Fox News Digital.
"Instead of creating easy access to drugs, we want to show people that there is an abundant, joyful life awaiting them in Jesus Christ, if they will turn to him."
Pat McFerron, an Oklahoma-based lobbyist and political consultant who organized the "Protect Our Kids No on 820" campaign, told Fox News Digital that the "key component" of the "repudiation of recreational marijuana" in Oklahoma is that people are becoming "more aware" as the "science becomes clearer" on the links that marijuana has with psychosis and schizophrenia as THC strains become more and more potent.
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"Especially for brains under 25 years of age," McFerron said.
"Marijuana is a mind-altering, addictive drug that has an adverse effect on families and whole communities," Hobbs said. "We are thankful Oklahomans rejected this proposal."
The Oklahomans who spoke to Fox News Digital said that the vote was not only a referendum on recreational marijuana in the state, but also a condemnation on how the 2018 vote to legalize medical marijuana has had led to many negative consequences, including illegal grow operations, crime associated with those illegal operations, water shortages and trafficking.
"After Oklahoma approved a state question in 2018 concerning medical marijuana, or what was presented to voters as medical, our state has been overtaken by marijuana," Hobbs said. "Oklahoma has more marijuana dispensaries than any other state. It is abundantly clear, after this resounding rejection of recreational marijuana, that a vast majority of Oklahoma has said ‘enough’ to the out-of-control growth of marijuana in this state."
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Oklahoma’s Republican Attorney General Gentner Drummond told Fox News Digital that out of the 6,299 licensed grow operators in the state, "probably over 3,000 of those" are "illegal grow operators," which he claimed are run "principally Chinese syndicated crime organizations."
"We've identified two Mexican cartel organizations," Drummond said. "We have Central American and other Asian nations that have truly invaded Oklahoma and are populating grows throughout Oklahoma that are a detriment to the community and impacting adversely utility usage, water usage, environmental injury to the land and a general fear factor by the residents of Oklahoma outside urban centers."
"Crime has increased in our state, we have these violent execution-style murders that are happening in marijuana facilities in our state, we have Chinese criminal organizations, we have Mexican cartels that are setting up shop in our state," Lankford said. "And a lot of folks in our faith communities are like we're watching our state and our community just crumble. We can't just watch that we've got to speak out."
Bart Barber, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor at the First Baptist Church of Farmersville, Texas, roughly 40 miles south of the Oklahoma border, told Fox News Digital that faith leaders were galvanized by the failure to stop medical marijuana in 2018.
"As a family of churches, our biggest regrets are the occasions when we went along with societal movements that were popular but wrong, and so we are all the more committed, when facing similar pressures today, to standing firm on the side of truth and human flourishing," Barber said.
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"Something has changed," Barber continued. "Oklahomans have had the opportunity to see first-hand the impact upon the Sooner State of widely available marijuana. The message of faith leaders has found listening ears in Oklahoma because it has rung as true among Oklahomans who now know more than ever that there is nothing recreational about addiction."
Lankford expressed a similar sentiment telling Fox News Digital that "people in the faith community can't just sit back and pretend culture gets better" and that "we actually have a responsibility to engage."
Drummond said that he expects the Oklahoma Legislature to work hard in the upcoming session to make sure the medical marijuana industry is dialed back and more properly licensed.
"I think that the faith leaders have identified that just as we learned with alcohol in the 1920s we’re learning with marijuana now it must be a controlled substance that you treat carefully, or it will absolutely lead toward other crimes and other bad habits in life," Drummond said.
McFerron also said that supporters of recreational marijuana miscalculated by promoting the idea that Oklahomans are being locked up for petty marijuana crimes. Marijuana possession became a misdemeanor in 2016, and the vast majority of state and federal prisoners are not locked up on marijuana charges, according to McFerron.
"Marijuana possession has not been a criminal offense in Oklahoma," McFerron said. "You’ve got to have it on a school property, you’ve got to have it with intent to distribute, it’s got to be a larger quantity. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been picked up for possession 40 times, it's not imprisonable. So this idea that there’s a group of people in prison for petty marijuana crimes is just not true."
The Yes on 820 organization did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.
McFerron said that ultimately Oklahoma voters looked around the national landscape and saw recreational marijuana, and other drugs, becoming more and more prevalent and said "that’s not what we want to have here."
"We did a half page newspaper ad in 45, 50 weekly newspapers that basically said ‘Don't California our Oklahoma’ and I think that was very, very effective," he said.