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Post-Election Marijuana Legalization Sparks Fears Of A ‘Big Pot’ Industry

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Marijuana legalization stands to gain massive ground on election day and is sparking a feud among advocates over the future of the commercial pot industry.

While a record majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana, some are fearful it will become another industry driven by profits, akin to alcohol or “big tobacco.” Some argue a “big pot” industry is desirable and will create a competitive environment with lower prices, which will be beneficial to medical marijuana patients.

Doctors in the medical marijuana community disagree, however, and fear low priced recreational pot will cut them out of the process, reports CBS News.

Supporters of broadening legalization argue medical vendors are just upset they are losing their monopoly of the industry and that the ballots will actually benefit medical patients. Some former proponents of legalization are changing their tune due to concerns over a profit-driven marijuana market.

“Legalization is happening, you know, for the first and only time,” Dan Riffle, a former legalization lobbyist, told CBS News. “And it seems like instead we’re just going to do alcohol again. We’re just going to do tobacco again. We’re just going to create this big, commercial model.”

Voters in five states will decide on ballots that legalize marijuana for recreational use, which could legalize the drug for nearly 60 million people across the country. Activists say they are less concerned with the prospect of “big pot” given the harm the current legal framework is causing. They say the Mexican Cartels are currently the “big pot” industry, so any policy that turns away from that is an improvement. (RELATED: Medical Industry Threatened By Recreational Marijuana Legalization)

“What’s scary is we can’t protect children now,” Earl Blumenauer, a congressman from Oregon, told CBS News. “What’s scary is that we are subsidizing Mexican drug cartels. What’s scary is that the unaccompanied minors that are flooding into the United States are here because of the disruption in Central America and the destabilization in Mexico.”

National reform advocates are focused on Proposition 64 in California, which holds nearly 60 percent support in the state. The ballot would allow anyone over 21 to possess one ounce of Marijuana and grow up to six plants in their home, with a 15 percent tax on any sales. Experts say that California often serves as the national model for legislative reforms.

Legalization in California, which approved medical marijuana in 1996, would open up marijuana access to the state’s 39 million residents and potentially rake in $1 billion in annual revenue. Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada also have recreational legalization on their ballots with similar possession laws to California and 10 to 15 percent sales taxes.

Legalization is polling above 50 percent in Maine, Massachusetts and California, however public opinion in Nevada is split at roughly 50 percent support. The ballot measure in Arizona promises to be the closest vote, with recent polling showing roughly 48 percent approval.

One entrepreneur in the burgeoning marijuana industry understands the fears over “big tobacco,” but argues that if regulations are done in a responsible way, the industry will be a safer outlet than the current black market.

“I think that most people in the United States who want to consume cannabis are already consuming it,” Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Privateer, told CBS News. “It will be interesting to see how the different products lower the percentage of people who actually consume via smoke. I think we’ll see other form factors that will be far more appealing from a health perspective than actually smoking cannabis.”

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