In California, Learning How Marijuana Is an Unlikely Divider

COMPTON, Calif. — My reporting beat at The Times is Northern California, so when I drove into Compton, outside of Los Angeles, it was unfamiliar territory. Jim Wilson, the San Francisco bureau photographer, and I had flown down to report a story about the different approaches cities were taking to marijuana legalization.

Previously, I had reported on the industrialization of marijuana in California; a community of ethnic Hmong farmers; and the reluctance of cannabis growers to come out of the shadows after legalization — only around 10 percent have signed up for a license.

This time, the story I ended up writing compared attitudes in Compton, where residents voted in January by a 3-to-1 margin to ban marijuana businesses from the city, with Oakland, Calif., a city that has embraced marijuana legalization as a way to generate tax revenue and help those who were disproportionately affected by the war on drugs.

I found it fascinating that the two cities, both of which had struggled for decades with an illicit drug problem and some of the violent crime associated with it, had diverged so sharply. It was as if they had been asked the same question and come up with completely…

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