The Weed Backlash Is Here

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According to a recent CNN poll, a full 55 percent of Americans think marijuana should be legal. Forty-four percent, however, do not. As The New York Times reports, many of these people reside in rural, conservative areas. This vocal minority has managed to ban marijuana commerce in certain municipalities in Colorado, where recreational weed is legal. As states like Florida, Oregon, Alaska, and California move towards legalization, some in those states are determined to keep pot out of their towns. 

This backlash movement could cost pot businesses as well as the government. The Times reports, 

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues from marijuana sales — promised by legalization’s supporters and now eagerly anticipated by state governments — that could be sharply reduced if local efforts to ban such sales expand.

Colorado Springs, sometimes known as the "evangelical Vatican," successfully banned weed commerce in Colorado. Yakima County, Washington, plans to ban marijuana businesses once legal weed goes into effect in the state. Yakima City Council member Dave Ettl told the Times, "There’s some money that’s not worth getting." In Oregon, where recreational weed will most likely be on the ballot this year, lawmakers are debating a bill that would let municipalities ban or limit medical marijuana sales. 

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The backlash movement is reminiscent of the post-Prohibition era, when "dry towns" popped up to combat the legalization of alcohol. History shows that this wasn't an effective tactic in the long term. Still, the backlash movement will make legalization more complicated than it already is. Tension exists, of course, between federal and state law. While President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have come out and said state-by-state legalization is okay, there are still a myriad of issues that threaten to upset the process. Banks, for example, are hesitant to take money from legal weed businesses, forcing dispensaries to deal entirely in cash. 

Ultimately, public opinion rests on the side of legalization. Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser to Obama, just thinks pot advocates are rushing it. He founded Smart Approaches to Marijuana with former congressman Patrick Kennedy (Kennedy says pot "destroys the brain and expedites psychosis"). Sabet tells the Times,

If legalization advocates just took a little bit more time and were not so obsessed with doing this at a thousand miles per hour, it might be better. Instead, they are helping precipitate a backlash.

At least four states are prepared to vote on legalization come November.  

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.