Chris Walsh: Could 2012 Legalization Efforts Tarnish Perception of Medical Pot Industry?

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Pot supporters in Colorado are gearing up for what they hope will be a watershed year in 2012, starting a drive today to gather the roughly 86,000 signatures needed to get a measure on the ballot that would essentially legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

A similar effort failed in Colorado five years ago, when voters shot down a bill to legalize weed in 2006. Still, it became clear at the time that a good portion of Colorado’s population is fine with the adult use of pot, as 40 percent of voters backed the legislation. The main forces behind the new effort – attorney Brian Vicente and Mason Tvert of SAFER – believe that acceptance of marijuana in Colorado has grown since then.

At the same time, pot backers in California are spearheading a similar drive in their state after Prop 19 was defeated by a relatively slim margin (it garnered around 46 percent of the vote).

I have no clue if the measures will pass. But I will say that I am concerned about the effect these efforts will have on the general public’s perception of the medical marijuana industry.

This view won’t be popular among the pot crowd. However, I think there is a real danger that this is too much, too soon in the case of Colorado. Pot dispensaries have sprung up at a breakneck – some say alarming – pace here in the past two years. In Denver, there are more dispensaries than there are Starbucks, an oft-used statistic that highlights the growth of the industry.

Voters are still getting comfortable – or at least are starting to accept – medical marijuana shops. Now, they are seeing another organized attempt to legalize the drug. The fear is that people on the fence about the whole issue will think that the medical marijuana push was a sham from the start, a way to open the door for legalization in general. That could turn the tide of public perception against the medical marijuana industry, which will make it much harder to operate a dispensary in the long run.

What happens to the medical marijuana industry if the bill passes is another question entirely, and I’ll explore it another time. For now, though, I’d be concerned about how this will come across to the average person. Perhaps it is better to wait several years until voters become more comfortable with the idea of medical marijuana.

Chris Walsh is the editor of Medical Marijuana Business Daily