by Kayla Johnson
Small town, Oklahoma can be a less than accepting place, no matter which small town you end up in, and while all towns and cities have their own problems, small towns in particular have a reputation of being less inclined to change, at least not at the pace of the larger towns around them. It can occasionally feel as if everybody knows everyone else’s business, and sometimes, they probably really do. I speak from experience, as a small town native, and I’ve even experienced some of the less than pleasant perspectives of small town life that simply add to the ‘stuck in time’ stereotype. Cannabis patients in both metro areas and small farm communities have likely become used to some degree of disdain from their fellow residents over the years, whether it comes in the form of a glare or a disapproving look to outright threats or violence. Oklahoma is firmly planted in the Bible Belt, and even as support for 788 began to really gain momentum, the opposition became more outspoken and noticeable as well, and this was especially true for small towns throughout the state.
However, a little over a year later, I’ve noticed a curious change in not only my small town, but many others throughout Oklahoma. Slowly, but surely, the opposition is quieting down, and the support is not only growing, it’s openly growing. We are set to pass over 200,000 registered patients by the end of the year, and while Tulsa and Oklahoma City have established themselves as the state’s two cannabis capitals, there’s a quiet, but rising force of small town patients that are shaking off decades of fear, prejudice, and even outright lies about cannabis to disprove the stereotypes, and to inspire change in their neighbors and coworkers.
Many of Oklahoma’s small towns are farming communities, and many of the residents of these towns are older, from generations that have been against cannabis for decades simply because they were always told it was a terrible drug, just like so many of us. However, unlike the generations before them, the residents of these small towns, both younger and older, have access to more information and knowledge than ever before, and that includes information about cannabis, the real information. The more you know, the more you grow, truly, and because people know more, they are wanting to try it, rather than talk down about it or those who do. And once they’ve tried it, they’re talking about it, openly, without fear or shame, to their friends, their neighbors, their kids, even their older grandchildren.. People are talking about it, they’re trying it for themselves, and it’s slowly becoming just another part of small town life, even where it was once voted strongly against.
My little town is the county seat of a county that voted no on 788. Like many other towns, there were billboards and signs along our highways and even in some yards, urging citizens to vote against the bill. When the bill passed, I heard many, many unhappy discussions in our small town grocery store the next several days, with opponents of the law wondering what impact it would have on the state. Our sole dispensary opened earlier this year, right on the main road of our town, and while I was thrilled, I admit that I also held my breath a bit, worried that they would have problems of some kind. Despite that opposition that had been so apparent just a year before, the response from the community has been welcoming, and patients who were once afraid of admitting they even had their card here have become comfortable and confident, being able to shop without worry in their own town. Now, patients who bump into each other in our little grocery store discuss their latest purchases from the dispensary. Moms are speaking to their mom friends about how much a joint outside after their kids are asleep has helped them relax way more than wine ever did. Coworkers are discussing their favorite growing methods on their lunch break. I was born here, and never thought I’d see this day.
Even when the opposition to legal, medical cannabis rears its head up to raise a fuss, the support for patients, even from those who are not patients themselves, is noticeable, where before the vote, many small town residents may have feared to put out a sign in favor of State Question 788. At the end of July, I myself had the police called on me by a neighbor because of my plants, and as soon as I mentioned to the officers that I had my card and produced it for them, there was no issue. The officers that responded were polite, professional, and even asked if they could take a look at my plants, as they’d never seen one in decent health before. They continued to ask questions, but not about my license. They simply wanted to know about the plant, how big it would get, why it was in a fabric pot and not in the ground, and as we chatted, I realized they were really just trying to learn more about it. One of them even said that until I handed him my license, he’d never seen a medical cannabis card before. Instead of simply moving on with their day, they made an effort to educate themselves on something that they’ve been against for decades. Small town police departments tend to have a harsh reputation themselves, and it really changed my perspective on how cannabis has changed small towns, if even that stereotype is slowly becoming unraveled. Despite the naysayers, stereotypes and opposition, cannabis is succeeding, even in small town; the proof isn’t in the pudding, it’s in the people, even the police sometimes.
No town, big or small, is perfect, especially in how it deals with cannabis and the citizens who use it as medicine, even with the new laws passed. There is still a great deal of work to be done, in regards to continuing to educate all Oklahomans about the benefits of cannabis, and why it’s legitimate medicine, but even the smallest town victory counts.