With marijuana referenda on the ballot in nine states today as national polls show support for legalization reaching record highs, it might seem like the pot debate is settled. And indeed, it does seem inevitable that state-level criminal restrictions on the drug will continue to be swept aside by war-on-drugs fatigue and Millennial-driven social libertarianism.
But that doesn’t mean fights over the legal status of marijuana are over. California, which is poised to approve a highly-permissive legalization measure, offers a preview of what the next stage of the weed wars might look like. The Associated Press reports:
Worried that California might legalize recreational marijuana, the state’s third-largest city by population has voted to ban pot sales ahead of Tuesday’s election.
San Jose isn’t alone in scrambling to block the possible effects of Proposition 64, which would legalize pot but also allow local bans on sales.
Dozens of cities and counties from tiny Blue Lake in the heart of Northern California’s pot-growing mecca to National City near the Mexico border have either imposed or are contemplating tough restrictions on recreational marijuana sales and cultivation.
While many people support having access to legal marijuana in the abstract—or at least, oppose the costly criminal justice apparatus required to enforce prohibition—they might also be wary of hosting marijuana dispensaries in their own cities or towns. As marijuana is legalized in a growing number of states, expect local ordinances to pop up restricting the sale of the drug, especially in wealthier areas.
That’s not to mention other roadblocks that are likely to be thrown up to marijuana use. As we wrote before, “the fading of legal prohibitions on marijuana use may give rise to new social sanctions. For example, employers might drug test their employees, landlords might restrict the use of pot on their properties, courts might consider drug use as a criterion in child custody cases, and frequent toking might become a roadblock to enrolling in college or receiving government aid.”
As Mark Kleiman—a drug policy expert and cautious decriminalization advocate—explained yesterday, many states are opting for sweeping deregulations of marijuana that seem likely to lower prices and increase the prevalence of cannabis abuse disorder. This is a grave mistake, and people concerned with public health should seek to amend those laws. But in the meantime, the battle is likely to be most intense at the local level—at colleges, companies, and cities deciding how to approach this brave new world.