The illegal cannabis market increases in California after legalization


Since the use of recreational marijuana in California was legalized, the black market has not stopped growing

Law enforcement officials continue discovering illegal marijuana farms in Southern California. In fact there are hundreds of illicit delivery services and marijuana dispensaries. Sometimes it seems like a joke because these illegal traffickers register their places as churches. Only in Mendocino County, the officials raided an illicit cultivation that was processing up to 500 pounds of pot a day.

Even though California legalized recreational marihuana, the illegal market continues operating and, according to law enforcement officials, in many areas has expanded. Thomas D. Allman, sheriff of Mendocino County, says that there is a lot of Money in the illicit market. The police seized cannabis worth more than $5 million in early April.

California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is very worried about it. He has stated that illicit cultivations in California are getting worse. In February the National Guard troops remained on the border with Mexico to chase illegal cannabis farms.

It is quite ironic. Legalization was meant to avoid these situations and avoid policies of incarceration for minor infractions. However, is seems that the war on drugs is not over in California.

Being aware of the consequences that the war on drugs had on African-Americans and Latino minorities, the authorities of some cities, like Los Angeles, don’t know what to do about it.

The fights of the licensed cannabis market in California are different that in other states that legalized recreational marijuana. For example, the sales in Colorado, Oregon and Washington increased up to 50 percent every year since it all began three years ago.

What is happening in California is something unique. No other state has an illicit market as enormous as California has. One of the worst problems is that this reality is destroying the revenue of licensed businesses and even worse, some businesses are going to close if the situation is not solved.

How odd! There are many entrepreneurs in the legal industry who were out of the law for many years before the legalization and now are demanding the prosecution of unlicensed weed businesses. They are really pissed off because they are paying taxes and due to the black market they have seen a sales drop in the last months.

The situation is absurd and ridiculous. Some illegal weed businesses are listing themselves as churches that say marijuana is a sacrament.

California gives its cities big latitude to regulate everything related to cannabis. However, the result of this policy is quite confusing. For example, cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego have laws that allow marijuana businesses. However, other smaller towns cannot sell. 80 percent of California’s nearly 500 municipalities don’t allow retail cannabis businesses. The law that legalized recreational cannabis was approved in 2016. The law was approved with 57 percent of votes in favor, which was a broad support. However, it has not been translated to the local level. Some smaller towns like Compton or Laguna Beach did not allow cannabis shops.

And this is one of the main reasons behind the booming of the black market. Only 620 cannabis shops have license so far. However, Colorado, with a population one-sixth the size of California, has 562 licensed recreational marijuana stores.

But there is another reason of great importance for the black market to continue growing: the enormous surplus of marijuana. After medical marijuana was legalized in California, the industry grew without a prudent oversight. Now many cannabis businesses don’t want to go through the nasty and costly process to get a license although it became obligatory last year.

Roughly speaking, about 14 million pounds of weed are grown in California every year, only 20 per cent is consumed in the state. The rest travels across the country illegally, via mail, delivery services, private vehicles and even little aircraft that use the existent routes used illegally for many years.

This illegal activity is getting stronger by the popularity of vaping, cannabis-infused candies and other products. For example, vape cartridges are much easier to transport and hide tan bags of marijuana. And the benefits of illegal cannabis trafficking remain enormous. The prices od these products in other states are much higher than in California. The illegal exports are increasing.

Cannabis continues being illegal at the federal level and the DEA is investigating marijuana-related crimes. But the organization admits that there are bigger problems to attend.

In some zones the police has seized more than the double amount of weed during the first year that recreational marijuana was legalized. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife got rid of 1.6 million cannabis plants last year. They destroyed 700,000 in 2017 and 800,000 the year before.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control has received 7,500 complaints about illegal operations and has sent more than 3,000 letters in order to close illicit cannabis businesses. Alex Traverso, a spokesman of the agency has stated that very soon they will begin to get rid of the balck market. But he also said that there were more illicit cannabis shops in Los Angeles alone than licensed shops in California.

However, the Department of Cannabis Regulation in Los Angeles says that whenever they shut down any illegal business, another one appears within few days.

Cat Parker, from this department, said the war on drugs in the past had been too bad for people of color. She also said the city is trying to find an efficient enforcement policy without the mistakes of the past. One strategy is turning off water and power services to noncompliant businesses. It would be a war on drugs 2.0

Another problem is the APP named Weedmaps, a phone app that tell users where the cannabis businesses are; legal and illegal.

Last year the Bureau of Cannabis Control wrote a letter for Weedmaps warning that if the company continued aiding illegal businesses, they will shut down the app.

Weedmaps answered back saying they was a technology company and not under the jurisdiction of the bureau. In fact, one year later Weedmaps has a list of hundreds of unlicensed shops.

This year, Mr. Taft has resigned as a board member of the Santa Ana Cannabis Association, saying that half the members of the Association were selling illegally.

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