Marijuana

California's War on Weed Continues Thanks to a Red Tape-Fueled Black Market

The Golden State is still taking punitive, costly, and pointless measures to fight illegal grow operations.

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Yesterday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra made a big deal about a bunch of police raids and arrests over the past year. Were these violent thugs or scam artists engaging in hacking or theft?

No. They were people illegally growing marijuana in a state that legalized growing marijuana. California has botched its legalization so badly that the state's attorney general is putting out press releases to brag about how many people they're still arresting.

Becerra announced that through the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program, the state's Department of Justice had raided 345 grow sites, arrested 148 people, and destroyed nearly 1 million marijuana plants that were being grown illegally, sometimes on public lands, across the state over the course of 2019.

"Illegal cannabis grows are devastating our communities. Criminals who disregard life, poison our waters, damage our public lands, and weaponize the illegal cannabis black market will be brought to justice," Becerra said in a prepared statement.

Becerra's release is heavy on talking about cooperation between federal, state, and local agencies to wipe out these illegal grow operations and about the potential environmental harms from massive pot farms out in the wild. Only a couple of the photos they've provided actually show any marijuana. Most show piles of trash, making it look as though they're raiding homeless encampments, not massive illegal grow operations.

Becerra's statement is silent about why a state that has legalized marijuana use—both medically and recreationally—still has such a massive black market. There's no mention about the massive state and local taxes that have driven up prices so much that a black market persists. There's no mention of how costly regulations and bureaucratic red tape have made it hard to legally grow marijuana for sale. And most importantly, just like all the old drug war announcements about drug site raids, there is no evidence that any of these arrests will actually succeed in shutting down the black market. Raids hadn't succeeded back when marijuana was illegal; why would these raids be any different?

The Golden State has done such a terrible job at actually legalizing marijuana that even 60 Minutes recently produced a segment on how the bureaucratic and regulatory systems California has put into place continue to foster black markets.

One small legal grower named Casey O'Neill noted he was $50,000 in the red trying to comply with all the regulations—"$2,500 a year for the water board discharge permit. It's $750 a year for the pond permit. It's $1,350 application fee to the county, plus another $675 when they actually give you the permit, annually." When asked about his profits, his response was blunt: "What profits?"

Black markets aren't caused solely by banning a good or service. They're also fostered when the government makes it so hard to legally operate that, unless you have the right government connections, the only way you'll realistically make money is by defying the law.

Becerra shows no sign that he has any understanding that these illegal operations are going to continue as long as regulations and taxes make it too burdensome to legally grow and sell weed. And so, just like every other law enforcement announcement from the past 30 years throwing out big numbers of arrests and drug confiscation, these numbers Becerra and CAMP are tossing out mean nothing. The black markets will continue.

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  1. The Golden State is still taking punitive, costly, and pointless measures to fight illegal grow operations.

    But think of the JOBS!

  2. They were people illegally growing marijuana in a state that legalized “legalized” growing marijuana.

    FTFY

    1. Correct. Every story about MJ in California should have quotes around “legal”.

    2. “Legalize” is a funny word. Does it mean getting rid of any penalties or bans on a particular activity or substance, or does it mean that there is a legal framework in which you can do it.
      What word would better describe the situation of states that have “legalized”?

  3. Criminals who disregard life, poison our waters, damage our public lands, and weaponize the illegal cannabis black market will be brought to justice

    Sure sounds like a bunch of bad hombres.

    1. “A violent hash smoker shook a chocolate machine . . . ”
      – Donovan

  4. Becerra shows no sign that he has any understanding that these illegal operations are going to continue

    Don’t be naive.

  5. Illegal cannabis grows are devastating our communities.

    HAHAHA what the fuck??

    1. Cops breaking down doors puts pressure on property values.

    2. I would have thought it was more the meth addled trailer trash and the crazy homeless people. That’s what it looked like to me in northern CA, at least.

      1. Yep, that’s how it is in Milwaukee, Atlanta, Louisville, Minneapolis and DC too. I travel fairly often for work and I see exactly what you describe in every major metropolitan area I visit. Its getting worse every year, too.

        I’ve never been to northern CA, but I hear its particularly bad there which makes sense since the lower classes in CA have decided to vote themselves out of affordable real estate.

    3. they are devastating comunities see my comments below

      1. I read your comment, and I have to say – if any of what you say is true, I feel bad for you – that really, really fucking sucks.

        However, none of it is unique to cannabis grows. Its the fact that your state has regulated the shit out of growing cannabis it that is the problem, not the grows themselves. These grows and the criminal element that surrounds them won’t ever go away until your state gets its shit together.

        Xavier Becerra’s comments on the grows destroying the community is inaccurate. Its California regulations that are destroying the community by making the illegal grows profitable in the first place.

  6. Most show piles of trash,

    Plastic on the table!

  7. tyrants gotta tyrant.

  8. “California’s War on Weed Continues Thanks to a Red Tape-Fueled Black Market”

    Given that legalization was always partial, then the war on weed continues everywhere ! Not just CA.

    Of course maybe Reason thought they were supporting FULL legalization all this time.

    1. Yeah, but CO isn’t screwing up their partial legalization like CA is.

      1. Not as badly, anyway. I gather there is still a pretty good black market in CO.

  9. “$2,500 a year for the water board discharge permit. It’s $750 a year for the pond permit. It’s $1,350 application fee to the county, plus another $675 when they actually give you the permit, annually.” When asked about his profits, his response was blunt: “What profits?”

    Oh, you thought coming into the light of day would make you less attractive a mark?

  10. fighting illegal grow operations is not pointless the illegal grows are using unsafe herbicides that are killing animals and fish, not to forget the poaching, and destroying water sources and even soil and also stealing water for their gardens not to mention the criminal elements threats to people who live near by or even drive by. I now have to carry everywhere for my job even going to and from work. there have also been a few house invasions by competing criminal elements two in my neighborhood alone. luckily they haven’t invaded the wrong house yet but unlike police they check the address of homes they invade at night. Welcome to small town California where trimmigrants tresspass and steal and leave waste and drug parphanila in our yards. I help legal growers, illegal growers can go to hell

    1. I’ve grown illegally for over 25 years.
      Quit repeating propagandist bullshit.

      1. its not propagandist, I’ve been dealing with it and living with it but maybe you don’t know how to read eveything i wrote

  11. It’s like repealing alcohol prohibition but setting the taxes and restrictions on legal sales so high that it guarantees a thriving black market backed by otherwise lawabiding citizens (or rather law-tolerating but justice-seeking citizens). The state collects taxes and fees on the legal market, but still carries on its crusade against the bootleggers. A win-win for the almighty state both ways. It actually undermines respect for the law and belief in the sanity of our law makers.

  12. The same shit is more than likely here canukistan.

    We’re only allowed 4 plant FFS. I just did what I do every summer, and grow way too much.

  13. Now who could have predicted that governments creating “tax and regulate” schemes for cannabis would have continued to prosecute cannabis in order to protect the state-sanctioned monopolies and tax revenues these “tax and regulate” schemes create and produce?

  14. The right way to legalize Marijuana is to cancel all laws concerning marijuana. The ‘illegal’ grows use unsafe herbicides (Roundup?) and why do I think the legal grows don’t?

    I propose that the restrictions on growing marijuana be the same as on eggplant or squash — with same taxes on all produce.

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