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But as more states consider whether to take on legalization, the rising industry has become the main target for opponents of legal pot."If we're not careful, the marijuana industry could quickly become the next Big Tobacco," warns the website for Grass Is Not Greener, a campaign launched by the anti-legalization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM).What if Big Marijuana behaves like Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco?
There are many, many layers to marijuana laws and legalization.
There are still major questions about the risks of teen use, whether marijuana really needs to be rescheduled to allow research into its medical use, and how legalization will ultimately affect rates of drug use.
By Kleiman's count, only liberal Vermont is seriously looking at the possibility of legalizing pot through its state legislature.
Even if state legislatures passed their own legalization legislation, another problem is that federal law limits how much state agencies can involve themselves in the day-to-day management of marijuana shops.
States, for instance, might have a harder time requiring nonprofits or co-ops to sell marijuana, similar to what's being done in parts of Spain and Uruguay.
They also might not be able to set quotas or require users to set their own quotas for how much pot can be bought each month, which is a favorite idea of Kleiman's."We're seeing the expected level of marketing irresponsibility from the vendors, but they don't have much to sell at the moment," Kleiman says."When they've got something to sell, we'll see how aggressive they get." Sabet acknowledges that if cautious drug policy experts like Kleiman were singlehandedly in charge of setting up a regulatory model for legal marijuana, the concept would be less concerning.Kleiman, who helped Washington state set up its marijuana regulations, says the simplicity of the ballot initiatives makes it difficult to get into the nuance of legalization.If a state is bound by a voter-approved measure to allow private citizens and businesses to sell pot, it becomes much more difficult to set up more elaborate, regulated models of sales.In Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state, voters approved ballot initiatives for legalization.But when advocates put measures on the ballot, they try to keep the language of the initiatives simple to avoid scaring off voters and giving too much leeway to lawmakers who might disagree with what voters choose to do.An April report from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center suggested that state governments could monopolize sales and sell marijuana through state-run shops.The report found that states that did this with alcohol kept prices higher, reduced access of alcohol to youth, and reduced overall levels of use.And Kleiman, for his part, says edibles could be properly managed with strong regulations, some of which have been established in Colorado and Washington after several incidents, including Maureen Dowd's infamous New York Times op-ed, led to public outcry."It may be in the long run that eating it is safer," he said. And once you have a legal option, you know how much you're taking." Still, Kleiman said it will be a long time until the full effects of commercialization come to light.