As a cannabis consumer in decades past, I smoked way more brickweed than I would like to admit. Presumably most, if not all, of it benefitted shady people or entities in one way or another. I didn’t know any better at the time, I just knew that I bought it from a friend and that even my dealer at the time didn’t know exactly where it came from. I doubt the person he bought it from knew exactly where it originated from either. But I think we can all agree that if it was of poor quality and in brick form, it likely had ties to a cartel and/or gang.
Even some of the better stuff that I consumed in the 1990’s and early 2000’s potentially benefited gangs and/or cartels, which I have always felt horrible about. Again, I didn’t know it at the time, and exactly how much of the cannabis that I consumed had ties to shady origins is anyone’s guess. Regardless, in the mid 2000’s I vowed to only consume cannabis that I knew exactly where it came from and who grew it. That was easier to do in Oregon versus other states, and as such, I don’t frown on people that aren’t able to make the same vow and stick to it.
The people I bought my personal cannabis from back then were obviously still involved in illegal activity since cannabis was prohibited, but none of them were members of gangs or cartels. They just happened to have a garden in their garage or basement, and grew and sold cannabis to help make ends meet. It was far from an uncommon thing in Oregon at the time, or anywhere on the West Coast for that matter.
Prior to legalization occurring in an American state, many touted legalization as having the potential to eliminate the unregulated cannabis market entirely. Time has proven that to not be the case. But that doesn’t mean that legalization doesn’t work. The price of unregulated cannabis has plummeted into the abyss, which has definitely hurt gangs and cartels via reduced profits from cannabis sales. That is an undeniable benefit of legalization, and adds to the many other benefits of legalization. However, the unregulated market still does exist, even in states where cannabis is now sold legally in regulated stores, and I don’t expect that to change. The unregulated market will always exist in some form, albeit much less profitable than prior to legalization.
Regulated cannabis involves a lot of overhead, as anyone in the legal cannabis industry will be quick to point out. Regulated cannabis gardens have to have security and other requirements in order to be licensed, which costs money. A cannabis industry license itself costs money. Legal cannabis harvests have to be tested. Whether a harvest is sold to retailers as flower, or it’s made into something and then sold to retailers, it all has to be strictly labeled before it is sold, and put into certain types of containers before it leaves the dispensary. The retailer has to pay rent, utilities, have insurance, pay employees, and many other things that cost money. Everyone along the way, from when the cannabis starts as a seed to when it ends as a consumer purchase, has to pay (or should be paying!) attorney fees. Then there’s taxes. All of that adds to the end price to the consumer.
Now compare that to the unregulated market person that just needs to grow the cannabis, harvest it, and sell it to someone. Clearly the unregulated individual has a serious advantage when it comes to the final price passed on to the consumer. Without all of the overhead that comes with being a legal entity, unregulated operations are able to sell cannabis for considerably cheaper than a legal entity. In America, many consumers base their purchases almost entirely off of what is cheapest, and cannabis is no exception in some cases. Because of that, there will always be a demand for cheap, unregulated cannabis.
With that being said, a regulated purchasing experience still has its advantages over an unregulated purchasing experience. Regulated dispensaries have more options. They do not require you to drive across town and meet in a dimly lit grocery store parking lot. You get to see the cannabis before you purchase it from a dispensary, which is not always the case in the dimly lit parking lot where you are quickly exchanging cash for a sandwich baggie in a brown paper sack in order to avoid detection.
Purchases made at a regulated dispensary are completely legal, so there is no fear of being arrested for the transaction. Portions of legal purchases support things like schools, which is a big reason why I am personally willing to pay a bit extra for regulated cannabis. Some dispensaries will deliver the cannabis to your home, and some even now have drive thrus. Dispensaries exist in multiple states now for adult use customers, which eliminates the need to shoulder tap strangers when consumers are far away from home, which was ALWAYS a huge pain while traveling.
Just because the unregulated market will likely never go away does not mean that legalization is pointless. Legalization may not eliminate the unregulated market, but it definitely has a huge impact on the unregulated market, which hurts gangs and cartels. The enormous drop in price for unregulated cannabis over the last decade is proof of that. That, combined with helping keep people out of jail for cannabis, makes legalization more than worth it in my opinion.
A market for moonshine still exists in America. There is still a market for untaxed tobacco products and there’s still a market for bootleg clothing (just go to any Swap Meet in America). Just because those unregulated markets still exist does not mean that alcohol, tobacco, and Nike T-shirts should be illegal. The same is also true for cannabis.