5 years after California legalized weed, the…

109 points

California voters legalized leisure marijuana, however its hashish market stays largely illicit. NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis about why.


Tomorrow marks 5 years since California voters handed Proposition 64, legalizing using leisure marijuana and paving the way in which for the eventual cultivation and sale of authorized weed in one of many world’s largest economies. 5 years later, hashish is promoting in report quantities, however absolutely authorized weed makes up only a fraction of the state’s marijuana market, with some specialists estimating that 80 to 90% of hashish gross sales in California nonetheless fall right into a authorized grey zone. In different phrases, the trade is, quote, “a multitude.” That is in line with reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis. She’s been reporting on hashish for some years now and not too long ago wrote about this in The Guardian. And she or he’s with us now.

Thanks a lot for becoming a member of us.

AMANDA CHICAGO LEWIS: Nice to be right here.

MARTIN: So I discussed that almost all marijuana gross sales in California are nonetheless taking place illicitly. I do know this out of your reporting. So the large query is, how does this occur? How does a state with authorized leisure gross sales nonetheless discover itself with a lot of the market working illicitly?

CHICAGO LEWIS: Nicely, the issue is the authorized market is pricey to affix in case you are a vendor, in case you’re a grower. And it is costly to take part in as a client. The massive drawback, actually, with California just isn’t what’s occurred within the final 5 years for the reason that legalization poll initiative handed however the 20 years earlier than that, when California legalized medical hashish however solely actually legalized the possession of the plant or rising for your self in case you had a physician’s advice. However you’ll be able to’t legalize a commodity and never legalize gross sales as a result of we stay underneath capitalism, and that is not how something works. And so these companies simply grew to become entrenched. And this laissez faire market took over.

MARTIN: So once we say that the gross sales are illicit, what does that imply? It would not actually imply what it meant again within the day. It isn’t like – what? – folks handing off within the parking zone someplace.

CHICAGO LEWIS: So the illicit market, it means a whole lot of various things. You’ve got bought cartels, gangs from China, from Bulgaria, you recognize, operating within the hills with AK-47s to guard their huge illicit farms. You’ve got bought mother and pop retailers which are working in cities and counties that determined they have been going to ban authorized gross sales. And it is every part in between these issues.

MARTIN: In order a client, is it clear whether or not a store is authorized or working in that grey space?

CHICAGO LEWIS: You need to be a really attentive client to differentiate between authorized and unlawful companies. Take a supply service. A supply service is fairly simple to cover the illegality round. And you may basically be ordering from a drug seller. The web site you order from may not make that clear, and the merchandise would possibly look similar. In reality, I am advised the factories in China that produce packaging for lots of the greatest authorized manufacturers in California additionally will flip round and promote counterfeit variations of the identical packaging to illicit operators. And that is to say nothing of the truth that many licensed, authorized operators within the hashish trade in California inform me the one approach they’ll flip a revenue is to have one foot within the unlawful market and one foot within the authorized market as a result of the unlawful market is a lot extra worthwhile.

MARTIN: Simply from a client standpoint, that sounds harmful.

CHICAGO LEWIS: Yeah. Take the vape disaster, proper? We noticed all of those lung sicknesses emerge in the summertime of 2019 brought about virtually totally by unlawful hashish vape pens. Hashish itself just isn’t a really harmful drug. However if you course of it with gross chemical substances and also you achieve this as cheaply as potential, you would possibly get one thing disgusting on the opposite finish. I spoke to folks in Los Angeles who have been shopping for vape pens that, you recognize, had made them sick and did not even perceive that they have been going to unlawful dispensaries.

MARTIN: And is there additionally a federal-state situation right here by way of capitalization, the distinction between federal regulatory frameworks and state frameworks?

CHICAGO LEWIS: Completely. The inconsistency between state and federal legislation is inflicting huge issues within the hashish trade in all places. When it comes to operating a authorized enterprise, it is very tough to get a checking account, proper? So then you definitely’re working in money. That may be very harmful.

And virtually extra considerably, you find yourself having to pay a 70% efficient tax price since you’re not capable of take deductions in your federal taxes. So most companies would possibly pay 35%. You are paying 70%. That may be an enormous value for a small enterprise.

However virtually extra considerably, since we’re doing this bizarre, piecemeal, state-by-state legalization, any state that legalizes is of course going to draw traffickers who develop weed underneath the duvet of legalization after which ship that weed to a state the place it isn’t authorized. And due to this fact, the value of a pound of hashish is way increased. The most effective-case state of affairs that we have seen by way of containing the illicit market in unlawful state is Colorado. And Colorado has a few 30, 35% illicit market price. That is the best-case state of affairs.

MARTIN: Earlier than we allow you to go, do you could have a way of why policymakers – what do they suppose would make a distinction in making this much less of a multitude?

CHICAGO LEWIS: You understand, I’ve spoken quite a bit with the girl who used to run Governor Newsom’s hashish coverage and now’s the director of the Division of Hashish Management, Nicole Elliott. And she or he’s actually conscious that the illicit market is a big drawback. But additionally, there are issues that she will’t management. You understand, the legislation has already been established and written that cities and counties are allowed to decide out of legalization, basically.

She will’t power a county to permit authorized gross sales. She will’t power Los Angeles to license extra of its illicit shops. There’s solely about 200 authorized dispensaries in Los Angeles, and there is estimated wherever between a thousand and possibly 1,500 illicit shops.

After which I believe a part of what hashish suffers from is that it is oddly a fancy situation that is not going to be prioritized by Congress, may not essentially be prioritized by, you recognize, state leaders. Like, we’re nonetheless in the course of a pandemic. I kind of see that, you recognize, parallel markets, authorized market and illicit market and possibly an in-between market that appears authorized however is not will in all probability persist not solely in California however in the remainder of the nation for fairly a while.

MARTIN: That was hashish reporter Amanda Chicago Lewis. Amanda, thanks a lot in your time.

CHICAGO LEWIS: Thanks for having me.

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Go to our web site phrases of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for additional data.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced utilizing a proprietary transcription course of developed with NPR. This textual content will not be in its last type and could also be up to date or revised sooner or later. Accuracy and availability might range. The authoritative report of NPR’s programming is the audio report.

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