Many marijuana consumers may like the legalization of cannabis so that they can either walk into an establishment or go to a website to peruse cannabis strains without fear of being arrested. The push for legalization though is about either providing the medicinal benefits of cannabis to patients, mending social injustices, the business opportunities that generates tax revenue or ending the war on drugs. California is an example of each rationale, it is even still an example of the lingering stigma surrounding marijuana.
In California, some cities like Oakland are making sure that the people who were once involved in the illegal dealing of marijuana have a real business opportunity in legal cannabis. Other cities, like Compton, are banning marijuana because they want to change the city’s image. Most cities seem to embrace the legalization of cannabis but do not want retail sales to take place within their city’s limits, instead desiring residents to travel to a neighboring town for their cannabis purchases.
“The war on drugs was a very specific war on a very specific community and culture,” said Darlene Flynn, the director of Oakland’s Department of Race and Equity.
Oakland’s equity program goes to the heart of a paradox of legal marijuana sales in California: While large numbers of those arrested before legalization were black, most of the cannabis businesses in the post-legalization era are run by white men.
Last year, Oakland produced a report showing that 77 percent of cannabis-related arrests in 2015 were of African-Americans, who make up around 30 percent of the city’s 420,000 residents.
“We have plenty of data that demonstrates that white people use and distribute drugs at the same rate as minorities do,” Ms. Flynn said. “There was an extreme tilt with regards to arrests and convictions.”
Like Oakland, Compton has a history of police abuse and high crime rates. In 2012, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department experimented with an aircraft that recorded high-definition images of the city, which allowed it to track everything happening on the streets. The experiment was kept secret from the city’s residents until it was revealed two years later, to much outrage.
The further the movement to legalize cannabis nationally progresses, the more the complexity of the issue comes into focus. Everyone’s reasoning behind the legalization effort has real legitimacy, however the infrastructure of laws and rules vary dramatically from state to state, city to city, town to town. Symmetry is severely lacking here in the United States and the best example of that is the legalization of cannabis.