Thanks to the nation’s piecemeal approach to marijuana legalization and underfunded and slow-moving enforcement and regulation, the black market in many cases has flourished, rather than been eliminated, Politico reports. Though each state has its own issues, one advocate for small cannabis farmers in Oregon says the problems are inevitable at this point. “You’re never going to eliminate [the illicit market] until most of the states are legal,” says Adam Smith of the Craft Cannabis Alliance. “As long as half the country still can’t get it legally, there’s a market for it illegally.”
With Oregon growers producing three times more marijuana than consumers inside the state can handle, neighboring Idaho has reported a 665 percent increase in the amount of illicit marijuana officers have seized. In California and Massachusetts, high state taxes and fees are driving up the price of legal cannabis, and mild repercussions for remaining unlicensed discourage existing business owners from navigating the complex licensing process. In Los Angeles, unlicensed businesses greatly outnumber legal ones. Three years after Massachusetts voters approved full legalization of marijuana, most of the cannabis economy consists of unlicensed “private clubs,” home growing operations and illicit sales. In the end, many advocates say, states can do much more to fight the black market, but it will never be fully gone while the federal government treats marijuana the same as heroin under federal law.