GLENPOOL, OK—Seconds after I send a text that I’ve arrived at Sage Farms, a 10-foot-high chain-link gate guarding the entrance slides open by remote command. Beyond the barbed-wire-topped fencing, a dirt drive bends to the right, beyond my sightline. In a different era, these security measures would have represented a transparent attempt to mitigate the risks of a major marijuana-growing operation. Especially here.
I’m a few miles outside Glenpool, OK, a half-hour south of Tulsa, more or less in the dead center of a state that Donald Trump carried by more than 36 percentage points. I just passed a sign advertising classes to help obtain open-carry handgun permits.
But these are unusual times in Oklahoma. Greeting me in the parking lot is Ben Neal, the farm’s 30-something owner, wearing a baseball cap and looking entirely unbothered by the prospect of a stranger traipsing around his greenhouses. My rental Jeep ends up next to delivery trucks adorned with giant tomatoes, cabbage, and other produce, part of a business that had been Neal’s main focus until last summer, when his life—and that of countless other Oklahomans—changed in a blink.
Sitting in his office, Neal explains how he got here. He and his father ran an airplane-parts manufacturing business until they were bought out in 2014. Offered the chance for a career reset, he chose hydroponic farming. He filled five greenhouses with tomatoes, lettuce, and other leafy greens. Then he heard about the looming vote on medical marijuana set for June 26 last year.