Legalizing marijuana across the board would solve all the problems related to illicit weed production, sales, and use. Right? Wrong. Wherever we mix private industry with government regulation, an illicit market crops up. It has to by virtue of the fact that there will always be people who want to do things outside of what the law allows. This reality underscores the fact that every state’s weed industry has its problems.
California and Colorado are often held up as the perfect examples of how to decriminalize marijuana without feeling any pain. But take a close look at their programs and you will discover they are anything but pain-free. Take California. Despite being the first state to legally recognize both medical cannabis and recreational use, they have one of the largest illicit markets in the country.
Artificial Controls a Problem
The root of California’s weed problem are the artificial controls put in place by state government. It is a given that state government has to exercise some sort of regulatory control over a substance that is still illegal at the federal level. But as with any other industry, more controls ultimately mean more problems. Government controls rarely fix as many problems as they create.
According to the East Bay Express, California has already licensed some 7300 growing operations. By contrast, there are only 1100 dispensaries and delivery companies in the state. Exacerbating the disparity are local communities that refuse to allow cannabis businesses within their borders, the end result being that buyers all across the state are getting their weed from unlicensed growers.
On top of all that, California’s growers are producing an estimated three times more than can be legally sold in state dispensaries. Some licensed growers are producing more than they are legally allowed to, while other growers are producing plants and selling them to processors and dispensaries even though they are not licensed to do so. The East Bay Express acknowledges that illicit weed is definitely making its way to the retail market.
Illicit Weed Is Cheaper
If all this wasn’t enough, the combination of regulations and taxes keeps marijuana prices artificially high in California. For all intents and purposes, illicit weed purchased on the street is cheaper. Customers don’t care if the product is inferior to what they can buy in a dispensary. They will sacrifice some quality to save money.
A little further to the east, Utah is facing similar problems despite not recognizing recreational use. In Utah, cannabis is only usable for medical purposes, and only with a state medical cannabis card. According to Provo’s Deseret Wellness, all medical cannabis consumed within state borders must be purchased from a licensed medical cannabis pharmacy.
Despite Utah’s program being significantly more restrictive than California’s, pricing continues to be problematic. Once again, government controls are to blame. Utah has only licensed fourteen pharmacies to this point. Likewise, they have only issued a limited number of growing licenses.
Medical cannabis experts in the state agree that the amount of product being produced and sold is not enough to keep up with demand. And because demand outstrips supply, medical cannabis in Utah is expensive. For some patients, it is prohibitively expensive. Do they buy illicit product on the street instead?
We have a tendency to believe that most problems can be solved with well-crafted legislation. Reality says otherwise. Laws are necessary to maintain a safe and orderly society. But laws also create additional problems of their own. Evidence of that is clearly seen in state cannabis laws. Every state’s weed industry has its problems. That much we know.