From a distance, California’s legalization of recreational marijuana can appear like a giant collective embrace of the drug by a state that is by far its largest producer and consumer. The diverging paths of Oakland and Compton, two cities with histories of illicit drugs and years of aggressive law enforcement crackdowns, highlight the continued ambivalence of many Californians toward marijuana. Oakland allows marijuana businesses but Compton banned them, the New York Times reports. It is a lesson for states and municipalities across the U.S. that are drawn to marijuana legalization as a source of revenue and see it as an inevitability given the failure of decades of federal efforts to stamp out cannabis. National polls suggest a majority of Americans favor legalization. Opinions can diverge sharply at the local level, and there are tensions between those who want to treat it as a business and those who see it as an opportunity for social justice.
Several states, including Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania, are assisting communities disproportionately affected by drug interdiction efforts. In California, Oakland led the way in framing the legalization as both an opportunity to address past injustice and as a source of revenue. Dozens of other cities and towns across the state want nothing to do with recreational marijuana sales. Only 14 percent of California’s 482 cities and towns allow retail sales of recreational marijuana, says the website Weedmaps. Oakland offers licenses to those with previous marijuana arrests. The idea, which has been copied in cities like Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Francisco, was intended as a redress for the years before legalization, when nonwhites were arrested at rates that were disproportionate to their share of the population.