by George Warren

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – California’s legalization of marijuana threatens the survival of a women’s sport that has been rapidly growing in popularity.

Some may remember roller derby as comically-scripted entertainment in the 1970s in the style of Big Time Wrestling.

“That was a long time ago,” says Sacramento Roller Derby public address announcer John Marcotte. “Roller derby has transformed itself into a legitimate sport.”

An estimated 1,250 mostly-female roller derby leagues have sprung up around the world in recent years, most of them in the United States. Most are run by women, for women.

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Monica Engebretson is a former roller derby skater whose 12-year-old daughter skates on the junior team.

“A lot of it is the team camaraderie and being involved in kind of an unusual sport– but one that’s very female-driven,” she said.

The Sacramento Roller Derby league had held its practices and games in a warehouse at 1501 N. C Street for nearly a decade. But the new property owner wants to open a hospice for terminally-ill homeless people. Nobody involved in the league questions the motive behind the impending lease termination, but that doesn’t help with their search for a new location.

Sacramento Roller Derby league executive director Amanda Dunham says she was stunned when she started shopping for alternate warehouse space. The 2016 legalization of recreational marijuana in California along with Sacramento’s liberal policy permitting indoor cultivation has led to a sharp spike in commercial rents.

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“When you have people coming in that’ll offer 10, 20, 30-thousand dollars over market rate, you can’t compete,” Dunham said.

Further complicating the search is the requirement the building doesn’t have pillars that would interfere with the roller derby track. Dunham said the league is searching for a space between 15,000 and 25,000 square feet to allow for spectators and obstacle-free skating.

Marcotte, whose two daughters skate on the junior team, is hoping some landlord will give the league a break.

“These are some fantastic women and girls and they just need a place to play and show everybody what they’re capable of,” he said.

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