Cigarettes are out; marijuana's in

  • Asa Schaeffer, founder of the medical cannabis dispensary Sonoma County Collective, smokes an concentrate of marijuana on Saturday, February 8, 2014. Schaeffer's Cherry Cola marijuana strain won best flowers at this year's Emerald Cup. (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

For everyone who lived through the era of Reefer Madness and the Marlboro Man, these are strange days indeed.

Cigarettes used to be cool. Now, they prompt unfiltered scorn. But the devil's weed? It's high times for that, man.

Who could have predicted that CVS, the nation's largest drug-store chain, will stop selling tobacco products at its stores, including three in Santa Rosa, later this year?

Or that thousands would gather at the Sonoma County Fairgounds in December to smoke weed in full view of the cops for the Emerald Cup cannabis competition?

"Tobacco is on the way out and cannabis is on the way in," said Asa Shaeffer, chief executive officer of the Sonoma County Collective, a home-delivery-only dispensary headquartered in Santa Rosa.

Cigarettes are becoming harder to find and more expensive, while ever-expanding rules restrict where they can be smoked, a trend that began decades ago with bans on planes and widened, in California at least, to take in restaurants, parks and apartment complexes.

In Sonoma County, smoking is outlawed in multi-unit housing in unincorporated areas, as well as on all county-owned property and certain outdoor areas. Several cities have similar restrictions.

But while marijuana remains illegal to most Californians who don't have a prescription for its medical use, Colorado and Washington this year toppled that makeshift legal barrier, allowing the sale of marijuana for recreational use. In California, legalization proponents are gathering signatures for no fewer than five ballot measures in November.

National surveys show the opposing trends clearly: Cigarette smoking has been on one prolonged slide over the past 50 years, while marijuana use is on the rise.

Debate about the shift still is charged in medical circles, with health officials especially concerned over the assumptions made by youth about the supposedly more benign impacts of marijuana.

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