BERKELEY, CA - MARCH 25: Medicinal marijuana user Dave Karp smokes marijuana at the Berkeley Patients Group March 25, 2010 in Berkeley, California. California Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified a ballot initiative late yesterday to legalize the possession and sale of marijuana in the State of California after proponents of the measure submitted over 690,000 signatures. The measure will appear on the November 2 general election ballot. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Bit by bit, the marijuana "industry" is inching away from the fringes of acceptability to the heart of the political process. The gestation period began in 1996, when the voters made California the first state to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. For the next few years, suppliers, users, the medical profession and the general public struggled to find some kind of framework of mutual respect and compatibility. Now the framework is taking shape.
Over the last few months, local governments have carved out taxation and regulation, while employees have begun to unionize--all efforts to cast the medical marijuana industry as legitimate business and partners in the economy.
Taxation began in 2009, when Oakland became the first city in the nation to require the industry to pay its share with a 1.8 percent gross receipts tax. Since then, other cities have followed. In the November election, several Bay Area cities will present ballot propositions that ask the voters to approve new taxes for medical marijuana dispensaries.
Regulation has begun to take shape throughout the state. Local governments have had to decide issues such as the appropriate distances between medical marijuana dispensaries and schools, formulas for determining the right number of facilities, and whether there should be specific dispensary districts.
Most recently, medical marijuana dispensary workers have begun to unionize -- yet another sign that the workers in this industry are attempting to behave like workers in other sectors of the economy.
Combined, these efforts have propelled the medical marijuana industry into the legitimate sector of politics. For the most part, industry representatives couldn't be happier. Paying taxes is a small price for acceptance. Regulation will bring peace to the industry where too many facilities could hurt all parties. And unionization just shows these workers are no different from the folks at the assembly plants, super markets, government facilities where employees are organized.
Whether these developments will be enough to persuade the voters to legalize marijuana entirely is another question altogether. That's the issue in Proposition 19. It's one thing to regulate a small sector of the economy; it's quite another to establish major social policy. For the folks working in the medical marijuana industry, however, their march to the center of respectability is well under way.