There is a naive expectation that with the rise of cannabis legalization that black market marijuana is simply going to go away. This is not the case. The black market has existed ever since marijuana was declared illegal by the Federal government in 1937 and is a multibillion dollar industry with established roots. The legalized marijuana industry, in contrast, is far smaller, not present in all states and almost brand new in comparison. There is going to be a crackdown on marijuana and laws are going to be enforced, especially as more money is involved as huge companies enter the industry to ensure profits margins be as large as they can be.
Police Crackdown on Marijuana
In California, the crackdown is currently taking place as recreational marijuana is set to become legal in January of next year. There have been an increasing number of raids and arrests in the past 5 years but what is happening at the moment is that government officials now have to protect the taxed and regulated marijuana market. Because it is now an industry which the government is involved along with a number of important corporations showing interest in a lucrative market, it needs to be protected at all costs. Another way to look at it is that this enforcement is protecting the people from low quality marijuana so that it does not harm the health of the public, ensuring that citizens in California get what they voted for. It is most likely a mix of both of these things.
But that is not to say that busting illegitimate marijuana growers is easy to do or straightforward. “Criminals” have been growing black market marijuana for nearly a century now and have considerable experience in avoiding getting caught. There growing operations can be in mountains or more likely deep in forests where they are unlikely to be found by passersby. They have numerous connections in police stations and other official outlets and some may have contacts with lawyers and administrative officials, at least the upper level criminal figures. And they doubtless have criminal networks to help each other out in a sophisticated crime ring that protects its own. Busting cannabis is as difficult as it ever was.
But even aside from hardcore growers who have made their lives bootlegging marijuana, there is still a sizable number of household growers who simply do not want to deal with the bureaucracy and the regulation of growing licensed marijuana. They are simply going ahead and growing their own supply, before Proposition 64 comes into force in California which will allow them to grow their own supply of marijuana. The cost, bureaucracy and anti-government sentiment is at an all-time high as people are opposing high taxes and a divisive President. People seem to be simply turning more anarchist and resistant, even when the laws are relatively benign. Marijuana is illegal in most states and only 8 states allow the growth of recreational marijuana.
The Enforcement Strategy
Given the current predicament, law officials in California have taken the approach of targeting larger marijuana operations that are harmful to the environment. Few are aware that marijuana cultivation can have severely detrimental effects on the environment if the waste is not properly disposed of. And few consider how much energy it takes to generate sufficient light for high yields.
Over 8000 people are reported to be growing weed in Humboldt County, but there are only around 2000 applications. So many people are growing weed illegally. The situation in California is that there is a huge surplus of marijuana for when it finally becomes legalized, to the tune of perhaps 8 times as much supply as demand. While the benefits of marijuana are being touted, we could have a future situation where most of the marijuana simply goes off, while it took much energy to grow and also severely harms the environment. People are getting swept away with marijuana and believe that it’s a victory for individuals against the government, but this does not accurately depict the bigger picture. Officers in these counties are reporting the damage done to the environment by illegitimate growers. Officials in Mendocino County have estimated that only about 10% of all marijuana growth in the country is legitimate. Research also suggests that 80% of total marijuana sales in California are from black market sales.
The Future of Black Market Marijuana
Some suggest that black market marijuana will not go away as long as there is a demand for it in other states where it has not been legalized. This means that until marijuana is decriminalized at the Federal level black-market marijuana will always remain a problem. If the Federal government simply legalized marijuana, they would generate more tax money as the black market faded away and they would also need to use less resources catching marijuana criminals. But Federal legalization is not on the agenda at present and black-market sales will remain strong across the USA for at least 5-10 years, consuming energy and destroying the environment along the way.