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Stakes high as California poised to vote on recreational pot

CA set to vote on recreational pot
CA set to vote on recreational pot 03:04

The Golden State has been a leader in cannabis culture and policy. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana 20 years ago. Soon, it could become the fifth and largest state to approve recreational use, with an initiative on the ballot for voters this November.

California's medical marijuana industry is already worth an estimated $2.7 billion. Experts say that number would reportedly more than double if recreational use is allowed.

As the country's most populous state and the world's sixth largest economy, passing this legislation could encourage other states to follow and pressure the federal government to confront the issue, reports CBS News correspondent Mireya Villarreal.

CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Philli... 05:28

"This issue is about getting drug deals off of the streets that are predators targeting our kids," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Unlike 2010 when a similar measure failed, this initiative has drawn big-name backers, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Facebook President Sean Parker. Proponents say with a 15 percent retail tax on the drug, the California cannabis market could reportedly generate $7 billion a year.

But groups working to defeat the initiative say legalizing marijuana comes with a cost.

"In Colorado, we've seen an increase poisonings, an increase in emergency room visits, an increase in fatal car crashes," said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. "I think over time as we count those costs, they become tremendous and they overwhelm any tax revenue you'd get from legalizing the drug."

If the measure passes in California, the number of Americans living in states where pot is legal will more than triple.

"That really helps puts pressure on Congress to deal with some of the major issues that have come out of the state and federal conflict on cannabis laws," said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

The California cannabis industry is also watching closely. Keith McCarty runs EAZE, an app that lets medical marijuana patients order medical marijuana from compliant dispensaries online and have it delivered to their home within a half hour. He sees plenty of growth potential for his business.

"We're really excited. With more demand, everything gets better and easier," McCarty said.

EAZE is part of a growing trend - 115 new California businesses have joined the National Cannabis Industry Association. At a cannabis job fair earlier this spring, thousands lined up for a chance to be part of this "budding" industry.

"It is certainly being driven by the idea that the California market has the potential to grow substantially in the next few years," West said.

Those who support the measure have outraised opponents at least 40 to one. When Californians defeated a similar legalization initiative six years ag0, it was during a mid-term election. But a recent poll shows nearly 60 percent of voters now support the measure.

Supporters say this year's contentious presidential election is likely to attract younger, more progressive voters, which could help the initiative pass.

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