Legalizing recreational cannabis in the state of California has reportedly neither slowed down illegal activity nor eased the pressure on law enforcement.
It turns out that illegal cannabis growers have only thrived since California legalized recreational use of the drug in 2016, stealing business from legal sellers at half price due to lack of regulation or taxation.
“The illegal industry is competing with the legal industry and essentially bankrupting them,” the sergeant said. James Roy of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department told Fox News.
Roy, who leads the department’s cannabis eradication team, had recently raided an illegal farm in Riverside County that had four massive white tents, colloquially known as a “hoop house,” containing 1.5 million dollars worth of illegal cannabis.
“This place is no different from the thousands of others we hit this year confiscating approximately half a million plants in Riverside County alone,” Roy told the outlet.
“It’s definitely profitable for the illegal market,” Roy later said. “They sell greenhouse marijuana by the pound for $500 to $2,000 here on the west coast. But if they take the exact same product and ship it east, it costs two or three times that amount.
While prices for every other product have skyrocketed in Los Angeles, the cost of illegal cannabis has remained relatively stable over the past few years, forcing legal dispensaries to compete on losing terms, according to Detective Mike Boylls of the LAPD’s Gang and Narcotics Division.
“The state legalized pot and hoped to turn it into a legitimate market. But the problem is that these illegal stores are coming and they are undermining all the legal stores. They sell products for almost half the price. So our job as law enforcement has become more difficult,” Boylls said.
Pro-cannabis enthusiasts have often said that legalization would lead to fewer drug dealers, but Kevin Sabet of the Foundation for Drug Policy Solutions said these were myopic projections at best.
“We were told that if we legalized it, we would get rid of the drug traffickers, we would reduce the illegal market considerably. People will buy it more and more and there will be no more underground market,” Sabet told Fox News.
“But the exact opposite has happened. The illegal market has exploded since California legalized marijuana because demand has increased so much due to great marketing. We know marijuana is much worse than people think. But, you know, the prevailing idea is that it doesn’t matter,” Sabet added.
Between licenses to grow, transport, and sell the product, California essentially imposed a 70% tax hike on legal cannabis in the state, creating a thriving black market. Police estimate there are up to ten illegal farms for every legal farm in the state.
The report comes months after a UK study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry showed that people who use cannabis with a THC potency greater than five to ten milligrams per gram have a higher risk of addiction and mental health problems. Study co-author Tom Freeman, director of the addiction and mental health group at the University of Bath in the UK, told CNN in an email at the time that users of high-potency cannabis had a “four times higher risk of addiction “compared to low-potency cannabis users.
“A United Nations report found that over the past two decades, the proportion of people seeking treatment for cannabis dependence has increased in all regions of the world except Africa,” said he declared.
Currently, about three in ten people in the United States have been diagnosed with cannabis addiction, according to statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Similarly, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction has found a 76% increase in treatment for marijuana addiction over the past decade.