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For The Marijuana Industry, Election Day Proves Bittersweet


Election Day proved huge for the marijuana industry. Voters in California, Nevada and Massachusetts legalized recreational use. It also passed in Maine, though there could be a recount. That means that 1 in 5 Americans now lives in a state where non-medical pot is legal for adults. But as NPR's Nathan Rott reports, some in the industry say increased legalization is bittersweet.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: There was something for everyone at the End of Cannabis Prohibition Election Day Party in Santa Monica, Calif., - Cannabis-infused snacks and juices for marijuana users, plain old pizza and cocktails for those who weren't and cheers over an election telecast...


ROTT: ...When it was announced that California's Proposition 64 had passed, legalizing recreational marijuana use in the country's most populous state. Simone Cimiluca-Radzins, one of the event's organizers, called it a game changer.

SIMONE CIMILUCA-RADZINS: It's a tipping point because it's going to change a national discussion on cannabis reform that hopefully could allow us to end federal prohibition.

ROTT: California, she says, is often a leader in national social change, and its move to legalization changes the political weight of the cannabis industry.

CIMILUCA-RADZINS: Because of the sheer numbers and the sheer volume and the sheer business associated with it.

ROTT: The Marijuana Business Daily, a trade publication, estimates that Tuesday's vote could add $7 to $8 billion to cannabis sales annually. That's on top of the billions of dollars that are already being spent in states where it's legal, all in an industry that's still against federal law.

MARK KLEIMAN: That ought to seem like an unsustainable position.

ROTT: Mark Kleiman is a professor of drug policy and crime control at New York University's Marron Institute.

KLEIMAN: So you got billions of dollars a year in transactions going on in cash. That's not healthy.

ROTT: That's just one of Kleiman's concerns. He's also worried that heavy use will increase as marijuana becomes more accessible and big business gets involved. But the main question and concern for many who follow marijuana policy is how the federal government is going to react, especially given the results of the presidential election. Ethan Nadelmann is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit that aims to end the American war on drugs.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Donald Trump is totally unpredictable on this issue. There was a moment years ago when he said he would just as soon legalize all drugs, but he was also seen using drug war rhetoric during the debates with Hillary Clinton.

ROTT: More so, Nadelmann says, he's worried about the prospects of Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani getting a position in the Trump administration. Under President Obama, the Justice Department has not enforced federal pot laws where it's legal at the state level. Nadelmann says that...

NADELMANN: Really helped to provide a kind of qualified green light for marijuana legalization to proceed.

ROTT: Under Trump, Nadelmann and cannabis advocates worry that could change. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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