‘Commercialization won out’: will legal marijuana be the next big tobacco?
As the legal pot movement steams ahead, opponents argue the cannabis industry may be little better than cigarette companies in their pursuit of profit
By Chris McGreal
Oct 14 2016
Candi CdeBaca voted to legalize the free sale of marijuana in Colorado four years ago because she thought it would be good for her Denver neighborhood.
The Mexican American youth worker wanted an end to the police targeting of Latino and African American working class communities over drugs. She said cannabis was a problem for her neighborhood of Swansea but illegal dealing also provided one of the few economic opportunities for many of its residents.
So CdeBaca hoped that when Colorado became the first state in the nation to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in 2014 it would not only keep people out of court but open up a legitimate means of earning a living. If there had to be a drug trade, at least Swansea could benefit.
Today she would vote differently.
“We have just swapped one kind of drug dealer for another,” said CdeBaca. “I believed it would positively impact communities of colour by decriminalizing it. So watching it unfold has been surprising.”
As CdeBaca sees it, all legalization has done is open the door to a takeover by corporate interests.
“It’s your typical capitalist who is in our neighborhood now and benefiting from an industry that at one time was our only option,” she said.
The only benefit she sees is a diminishing number of drug arrests, although she notes that minorities are still far more likely to be detained by the police for offenses such as smoking marijuana in public.
America’s experiment with legalizing marijuana for pleasure is expected to take another leap forward in November when California votes on whether to follow Colorado and three other states – Washington, Oregon and Alaska – in permitting production of the drug for recreational use and its sale to anyone over the age of 21.
Opinion polls show strong support for the measure in California, which would give a hefty boost to similar campaigns in other states and to end the federal prohibition by legalizing recreational marijuana along the entire US west coast.
With 25 states and Washington DC already permitting the sale of medical marijuana, supporters of reform say the momentum is with them. Activists liken the push for legalization to the campaign for same-sex marriage which saw states lay the ground for the supreme court’s ruling in favor of equality.
Marijuana has rapidly become so normalized in some states that while cigarette and alcohol adverts are banned or restricted, in cities such as Portland, Oregon, large billboards advertising cannabis are common.
This has confounded some opponents who see Colorado’s pioneering of freely available marijuana as a warning to other states. They claim legalization of recreational cannabis is a disaster which has failed to deliver the much promised tax windfall and turned the state into a haven for smugglers. Above all, the critics say, statistics show a sharp rise in drug use by teenagers, in fatal car accidents involving drivers under the influence of cannabis and of hospitals treating overdoses.