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Legalizing pot ended up as textbook case of being careful what you ask for
Dennis Wyatt new mug
Dennis Wyatt

We have an addiction problem when it comes to marijuana.

And it has nothing to do with those who get stoned more often than they shower.

It has to do with money.

More precisely it has to do with the pursuit of money by growers, distributors, the proverbial street corner retailers, and the government plus the desire of consumers to part with as little of it as possible.

In order to sell the fairytale the marijuana black market was going to whither somewhat in California when voters legalized the recreational use of cannabis five years ago we had to ignore that addiction.

It is what has gotten this state to where it is today. The black market is not only more robust than in 2016 according to those across the spectrum from marijuana entrepreneurs to law enforcement but the violent crime associated it with it has not abated.

And when it comes to environmental damage illegal grows inflict on forests, the land and water supplies the damage is accelerating.

The marijuana market is no different than the markets for a wide array of items sold via push cart food vendors, garage sales, flea markets, and online postings.

There are a sizable number of people out there that can sell items for less because they don’t have a brick and mortar business with its associated costs. Among those are people who either thorough lack of knowledge or deliberate acts sell items that are legally taxable at the point of sale without charging or collecting sales tax.

And then there is the real problem subgroup. It is arguably a relatively small number but the damage they impose is magnified significantly. These are the people that secure merchandise by theft whether it is porch piracy, shoplifting, credit card fraud, pilfering from warehouses, looting containers in railroad yards or doing it the old-fashioned way by burglarizing homes.

They use the previously mentioned non-brick and mortar venues to move product they secure by illegal means.

The buyers — whether due to denial, lack of a conscience, or being oblivious — purchase bargains that quite often were stolen.

Legitimate businesses essentially provide cover for those with no problem operating outside the law to sell products to those not worried about why the price they are paying seems too good to be true.

Legalizing marijuana in California has done the same thing.

Highly regulated, legitimate, and licensed retail marijuana sellers that interact with the public deal with legal products that are subject to stringent testing and taxation. They are not the problem.

But take a step or two back in the legal marijuana chain and you apparently will find a growing number of licensed growers also serving the black market.

That clearly is providing cover given how law enforcement lacks adequate resources to stay on top of such illegal shenanigans and the criminal justice system has been defanged to the point whatever punishment may be dealt out for getting caught isn’t a deterrent.

This is in addition to clear evidence offered by every organization on both sides of the legalization debate that black market grows as well as sales has increased in California.

The opening of brick-and-mortar storefront marijuana dispensaries won’t bring more crime to Ceres or even cheat the government out of its pay day. They will be the only sellers of marijuana in this city following the rules, taking expensive steps to assure the safety of customers before, during and immediately after transactions, as well as collect taxes due the city and state.

They also will attract buyers that are law-abiding and aren’t in hunt of a questionable bargain delivered by those with no desire or reason to follow the law.

The problem are the not-so-highly visible licensed growers being put in price squeezes by government regulations and taxes that are more than dabbling in the black market with parallel or off-the-book operations.

That has prompted those that have refrained from breaking the law to now pressure the state to suspend some of the draconian taxes put in place on marijuana to give the fledging legal pot market a chance to take root and eventually grow to the point the black market in marijuana and the lawless problems and tax dodging it creates gets to reasonably tolerable levels as they are for today’s black markets for cigarettes and booze.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that addiction to money by those that want it and those that spend it who are willing to ignore laws on a wholesale basis to keep as much of their money as they can create the perfect tsunami for the illegal marijuana market.

This is not a repeat of the end of prohibition, far from it.

But here is the sobering thought. The crime rings that flourished during prohibition didn’t go away when legal liquor started flowing again. Organized crime still grew.

How is the supposed the end of illegal marijuana going to be different?

Yet there is a growing clamor about marijuana advocates to legalize marijuana on the federal level to accomplish such a goal.

A move to federal legalization may indeed bring some uniformity but it won’t end confusion given how laws regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol vary from state to state and even among different locales within states.

And it certainly won’t dial back the black market to any large degree as what happened with bootleg booze after prohibition. That will occur due to how marijuana is made consumable compared to alcohol and the ability to do so in a much larger quantity with off the grid operations.

As for the cartels that move marijuana they will find another product or “service” to replace what — if any — illegal pot revenues they lose.

What can be certain is some politician will proclaim the arrival of a new era as one Gavin Newsom did back five years ago when he boasted legalized recreational marijuana as a “game changer” from where he sat on the proverbial political sidelines as lieutenant governor.

Newsom today as the sitting governor finds himself in a quandary his advocacy of legal marijuana created.

It hasn’t produced the truckloads of revenue flowing into Sacramento as promised nor has it dialed back the black market to make those that profit from it less lethal or dangerous to law-abiding citizens.

What could possibly go wrong by the government taking further steps to “help” the legal marijuana market?

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.