While lawmakers hammer out regulations on Colorado's nascent yet booming medical marijuana industry, an even bigger political showdown is looming in California, where voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana altogether in the November election.
While marijuana activists have been pushing for legalization for decades, some of those associated with California's medical-marijuana industry are nervous about what such a development could mean for them.
Anna Hamilton, a California medical marijuana worker, recently told the Times-Standard newspaper in Humboldt county that legalization could be "devastating" to the Emerald Triangle, the so-called northern California region that's home to Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties -- the biggest marijuana producing counties in the county.
In other words, full-scale repeal of marijuana prohibitions could wreak havoc on the thousands of people who quietly grow, process and sell weed in the area -- and that could mean trouble for the entire region. A Mendocino County study found that pot accounted for up to two-thirds of the county's economy.
That's why, last week, Hamilton held an unprecedented meeting of local business people, area officials and those involved with medical marijuana to consider a "pot-pot economy." (Such meetings aren't as unprecedented in Colorado; lately our medical-marijuana industry, though considerably smaller, has been less clandestine than California's.)
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While there's no word yet as to the meeting's results, Hamilton told the Times-Standard she hoped the area could leverage in its "Emerald Triangle" designation after potential legalization -- embracing branded marijuana products and services and even marijuana tourism.
As Colorado's medical-marijuana industry matures and advocates like SAFER's Mason Tvert move toward putting a similar legalization effort before this state's voters, medical-marijuana workers may be faced with the same conundrum. So they may want to start preparing now.
We can see it already: Ganja tours of Denver hosted by colorful bus driver Banjo Billy -- and the transformation of Boulder County into the Napa Valley of pot.