The rest of California lights up a new multibillion-dollar recreational pot industry on Jan. 1, but in Bakersfield and most of Kern County, the historic occasion is nothing less than Reefer Madness.

While some are calling legalization the new gold rush, others are treating it like a harlot in the front pew. But come Monday, recreational marijuana sales will come out of the darkness, bringing the largely underground economy into the light.

The state this week will begin issuing permits for activities related to recreational pot, including cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and sale. Cities and counties had the option to embrace or reject, and some cities around the state embraced the opportunity. Governing bodies in the southern San Joaquin Valley, however, generally chose to treat weed as they've always treated weed. 

The Bakersfield City Council and the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to ban all commercial cannabis activity, and so did most the rest of the communities in outlying areas.

David Abbasi, of a Central Valley marijuana advocacy group, told the Board of Supervisors in October that many of the claims by opponents of marijuana are inaccurate and outdated and that the county needs to remember it has been down this road before.

"We are ready to respond with a legal challenge" to the ban on commercial pot, he said.

But others argued that marijuana use is detrimental to individuals and families.

Canyon Hills Assembly of God Pastor Wendell Vinson argued at the same meeting that the county shouldn't be involved in any way in legitimizing commercial cannabis.

"This is about one thing, whether the county will get involved in the pot business," he said "It's a sleazy business."

Even as the city and the county adopt a hands-off approach, cannabis financial analysis firm GreenWave Advisors predicts the legal market could be worth $5.1 billion in 2018, and much more in subsequent years.

Concerns are being raised about whether young people will start using more marijuana thanks to increased visibility. And local law enforcement agencies are hammering home the message that pot smoking and driving don't mix.

"While alcohol-impaired driving remains the most serious problem on our roadways, the percentage of drivers in fatal crashes with other impairing substances in their system keeps rising," the Bakersfield Police Department said in a news release last week.

"Faced with more instances of DUID — Driving Under the Influence of Drugs — state and local officials are reiterating the message that 'DUI Doesn’t Just Mean Booze.'"

The message takes on increased importance, the BPD said, as the state begins licensing commercial non-medical marijuana sales under provisions of Proposition 64.

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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