In California, Learning How Marijuana Is an Unlikely Divider – New York Times


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 different answers.

Our reporting in Compton took us to some predictable places, like City Hall. But we also had some unplanned stops, like the tennis courts where Serena and Venus Williams practiced as kids.

While writing, I wondered what kind of details I should publish about the previous lives of people in the marijuana industry. Virgil Grant, one of the article’s subjects, told me stories about how he would sell marijuana from his family grocery store in Compton in the 1980s and 1990s by putting the weed in empty boxes of Lucky Charms. He mentioned, without much elaboration, that would-be competitors in Compton regretted going

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