Pot legalization in California was hot topic at SF conference

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Four states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana and many say it's only a matter of time before California does the same. That topic was part of the conversation on Monday at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco.

The push for legalization has created a number of new companies. California stands to gain much more than Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon - states that have all legalized marijuana -- but ABC7 News found out it is not just all about the money.

As some states continue pushing to legalize recreational marijuana, business models are also expanding. Vendors attending the San Francisco conference see a prosperous industry.

TV personality Rick Steves agrees; he co-sponsored the law in Washington that legalized marijuana in that state.

"It's just a huge black market industry with billions of dollars that is enriching and empowering gangs and organized crime that should be turned into a legitimate taxed and regulated industry," Steves told ABC7 News.

Colorado began selling marijuana in January 2014. During the first eight months, that state collected $45 million in taxes from the sale of medical and recreational marijuana.

NerdWallet -- a personal finance website -- projects California would generate $519 million a year in tax revenue.

California is expected to have an initiative on the November 2016 ballot.

Companies like Steep Hill Labs in Berkeley are hoping it passes, not just for the money, but the type of safety regulations that would come with it.

"We test cannabis for potency and contaminants to keep the cannabis supply safe for consumers," David Lampach from Steep Hill Labs said.

Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, or CALM, side with the federal government in that marijuana is a drug with a high potential for abuse and should not be legalized.

"People need to recognize how dangerous marijuana is and we need to overcome this idea that marijuana is like alcohol. It's not, it's significantly different," Scott Chipman from CALM said.

But some lawmakers have changed their position on medical marijuana. Congress passed a federal law prohibiting the Justice Department from spending any funds to block implementation of state medical cannabis laws.
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