Oklahoma’s voters legalized medical marijuana in 2018 when they okayed Oklahoma State Question 788 by a solid 13.7-point margin.

Since then, the market — ignored by most larger multi-state operators — has exploded. While that made it the 30th state with legal medical cannabis, it made up for lost time in short order: Three short years later, the number of dispensary licenses issued by the State of Oklahoma is staggering, surpassing Colorado’s total of both recreational and medical dispensaries by a wide margin.

How did the reliably red Sooner State emerge as a cannabis hotbed? The consensus answer: no limits on the number of (notably cheap) licenses, affordable real estate and energy, and easily attainable medical cards.

According to the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority, there were a nation-leading 2,144 active medical dispensary licenses statewide as of March 5, 2021, more than twice the total of 1,037 in Colorado, a fact made more anomalous by the population disparity: Colorado has about 5.75 million residents, while Oklahoma has 4 million.

One reason for the sheer volume of medical cannabis shops in Oklahoma is a $2,500 license fee and a streamlined system. While that is in line with licenses in Colorado, it’s a quantum leap to California, where annual license fees for big dispensaries can top $100,000.

Oklahoma also has more medical cannabis patents per capita than any other state: 368,330, roughly one of eight adults who call the Sooner State home. There were more than 7,000 licensed growers on the other side of the equation.

According to Oklahoma Tax Commission data, medical dispensaries reported more than $831 million in total revenue in 2020, a number that’s 141 percent higher than the $345 million reported in 2019. This translated to the collection of $71.6 million in state and local taxes in 2020, up more than $40 million — or about 130 percent — above the take in 2019.

And sales keep increasing: The most recent data shows an uptick of more than 30 percent in medical cannabis sales from December 2020 to February 2021.

Oklahoma’s relatively unfettered approach has resulted in a dynamic market, but that also means there are more failed businesses and more consolidation than other states The state’s count of 11,867 licensed businesses in March 2020 dropped a shade over 10 percent to 10,587 in March 2021.

Oklahoma launched a pilot hemp program in 2018 under the auspices of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, with 29 growers on 445 acres. In 2019, those numbers boomed to 359 growers on 21,637 acres. The year 2020 was a bust, with only 129 growers on 3,885 acres.

As the industry matures, the Oklahoma Cannabis Industry Association is endeavoring to quantify its economic impact and codify best practices through several research initiatives.

Photo courtesy Stability Cannabis.