Free Minds & Free Markets

California Doesn’t Need More Marijuana Regulation; It Needs Less

Governor Newsom wants to fight the black market. That’s how we got the drug war in the first place.

Marijuana advertisementarmando arorizo/EFE/NewscomCalifornia thought it was going to make billions in revenue from marijuana sales once it was legal for recreational use in the state. That hasn't happened. California has piled so many taxes onto the industry and so many cities have banned shops that the state actually lost revenue when compared to previous medical marijuana sales.

This doesn't necessarily mean people are smoking less. Rather, the exorbitant costs to legally sell marijuana in California has perpetuated the black market that legalization was supposed to eliminate.

Some lawmakers recognize the problem and have proposed cutting state taxes to make it more reasonable for people to be able to legally deal marijuana at a competitive price. Unfortunately, Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration, in a new report, sees the continued flourishing of the black market as an "enforcement" problem. The state is not doing enough to crack down on unlicensed marijuana grow operations. From the Los Angeles Times:

Newsom said recently that he would address the black market with a carrot-and-stick approach that would "move expeditiously at licensing more and more dispensaries" while also "making sure we go after the bad actors."

"I want to see more enforcement," Newsom told reporters two days after the critical advisory committee report was released.

As much as 80% of the marijuana sold in California comes from the black market, according to an estimate by New Frontier Data, a firm that tracks cannabis sales and trends. Analysts also found that California's illicit pot market was valued at an estimated $3.7 billion last year, more than four times the size of the legal market.

Enforcement by the state has been hampered by a lack of resources, a decision to give new firms ample time to comply with complex regulations and political disputes, according to state records and interviews with officials and industry insiders.

There's a problem here highlighted in that last paragraph—the idea that this decision to give firm times to comply is some sort of kindness being directed toward marijuana entrepreneurs. The reality of the situation was highlighted in starker terms on Sunday in the pages of the very same newspaper. The biggest barrier for some people trying to legally sell marijuana isn't just the high taxes they have to account for. They're finding that after all this lead up, city governments still aren't really prepared on their end to license the shops. In Los Angeles, many wannabe legal marijuana vendors tried to follow the proper permitting process only to get burned by an unprepared bureaucracy.

After giving special preference to shops that had been already operating or providing marijuana for medical dispensaries, the city was supposed to throw open the doors for newcomers. That hasn't happened. And Los Angeles leaders don't know when it will. From the Los Angeles Times:

"They just keep saying, 'We don't know,'" said Benjamin Brayfield, who shut down his cannabis collective more than a year ago, trying to stay in line with the law while L.A. started its licensing process. In January, he abandoned his Mid-Wilshire location and has been working with a company in Palm Springs instead.

This month, the department said it hopes to begin the last phase of local licensing this spring or summer. At a meeting on Friday, both City Council President Herb Wesson and Cat Packer, executive director of the Department of Cannabis Regulation, said L.A. needs to proceed thoughtfully, not rush.

"People wanted their licenses yesterday," Packer acknowledged. "But the truth of the matter is that we are just getting started."

That they're saying they're "just getting started" more than a full year after California legalized recreational sales is indicative of a serious problem with the city government's ability to adequately administer a program it demands authority over.

Black markets, of course, exist whenever people cannot legally purchase the goods and services that they're looking for at a reasonable cost. The high taxes in California have guaranteed that a black market is likely to continue. But let's also not discount that bureaucratic incompetence is also making it impossible for the market to legally meet consumer demand. People are essentially having their lives disrupted and are facing economic hardships all because they tried to "follow the rules."

That Newsom is insisting on harsh penalties for rule-breakers shows how little he truly understands why it was important to legalize marijuana in the first place. The criminalization of marijuana and the drug war that ensued disrupted and ruined countless lives for perpetuating a manufactured public safety scare. The enforcement of marijuana laws were what created the black market. To get rid of the laws, but then put into place an equally repressive system that ends up punishing people and still creates an environment where a black market is in demand just misses the entire point. It's the inability to legally purchase marijuana that created the black market. Fix that problem.

More from ReasonTV on California's continued marijuana black market:

Photo Credit: armando arorizo/EFE/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Unfortunately, Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration, in a new report, sees the continued flourishing of the black market as an "enforcement" problem. The state is not doing enough to crack down on unlicensed marijuana grow operations.

    The tried and true approach of surging the drug war.

  • chipper me timbers||

    Central planner gonna plan.

  • Dace Highlander||

    O. M. G. I can't get a post to go up in 3 of 5 attempts but RubyRSnell can bot spam with no problem. It is the beginning of the end of civilization.

  • Rockabilly||

    This is the fault of the progressives and their stupid fucking laws 'legalizing' marijuana under central committee guide lines.

    They couldn't just support a state ballot measure that simply re-legalized marijuana.

    Oh no, they had to draft ballot measures that supported 'legalizing' marijuana only if it was taxed and regulated like alcohol.

  • Zeb||

    "Taxed and regulated like alcohol" is one of the most absurd selling points ever. The alcohol regulation system in this country is stupid and ridiculous.

  • Robert||

    But the bottom line is still that people can buy liquor legally.

  • MattXIV||

    There should be a shorthand for problems so absurd that they could only be produced by CA regulators.

  • Dace Highlander||

    "Political deliberations" from the genus "Politicus Libations".

  • Zeb||

    A gray market in cannabis is vastly preferable to any fully legal and regulated market that is likely to happen. I hope people just keep doing their thing and avoiding the taxed and regulated market.

  • IceTrey||

    They should have taken the alcohol laws and added "or cannabis" and been done with it.

  • Duke of url||

    They should have taken the tomato cultivation laws and added "or cannabis" and been done with it.

  • Ecoli||

    El Chappo Newsome needs to dip his beak.

  • buybuydandavis||


  • ||

    they're saying they're "just getting started" more than a full year after California legalized recreational sales

    It's worse than that - legalization passed in 2016. State and local authorities were given more than a year to prepare, with full legalization going "live" on Jan 1, 2018. There was then another six-month grace period, ending Jul 1, 2018 so that everyone could work out how the regulations were going to work in practice.

    It's now 13 months after the end of the year they were already given to prepare and they are now "just getting started.

    It's like our own mini-Brexit.

  • Tionico||

    Someone go tell mistah Scammin Nuisance to go and inform himself on a phenomenon known as the "Laffer Curve". No it's not a theme for a sit-com. It is a real thing, and what he is miffed about (the shortfall of revenue compared to expectations) is precisely the matter dealt with in this well-documented theory.

    The root of the matter is that gummit trynna regulate what they gots no bidniss regulatin.
    So people wanna put some seeds in the ground, water, weed, prune, manage pests, then use the resulting new growth as THEY see fit. But Nannies like Nuisance wanna step in and say NO YA DON"T.... but if you smile pretty and PAY ME I'll "let ya".

    If he does persue law enforcement action against "black market" actors, he'll end up even further in the hole... the costs of investigation, enforcement, prosecution, and warehousing the naughtie naughties will far exceed any revenue he'd gain by trying to force all that business into the legal marketplace.

    Now its legal in California, everyone who wants to use the stuff is growing their six stems already. And Nuisance will NEVER tap that volume for revenue, any more than were he to outlaw the growing of tomatoes.
    He be a eedjit. But then, whaddya speck.. the fokes in California ELECTED him.......

  • ThomasD||

    Pretty much this. It's surprisingly difficult to turn tobacco seeds into decent smokes, but growing decent MJ is easier than growing cherrry tomatoes. Trying to tax this market at the supply end is a fools errand.

  • Árboles de la Barranca||

    We need to tax our marijuana to feed the police state.

    I thought it was going to be legal after it was legalized.

    The power to tax includes jail time for tax-evaders.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Welcome to Progressive Libertopia.

    It's only going to get worse in CA. They're done. Their only useful purpose is to serve as a lesson to the rest of the country.

    Import big government voters.
    Get big government.

  • Dace Highlander||

    A couple of headlines recently coalesced here and I'd like to just throw them out like chum in the water:

    The War on Drugs vs. Asset Forfeiture - Here we have various groups saying there is a (failed) War on Drugs by the government yet I've yet to hear of a Federal Agency doing an Asset Forfeiture case against any of the marijuana growers or distributors. Is this a Vietnam War on Drugs policy where we have weapons we just don't want to use for political reasons? It's a win-win for the Feds: More money, less drugs. Yet...crickets.

    I'm all in on legalizing marijuana even though I've never smoked a joint. I have however eaten several dozen cookies and a few pans of brownies.

    Random thought: If it's ok to ignore federal law and sell marijuana or be a sanctuary city, would it be cool if we ignored other federal laws like background checks or outlawed abortion?

  • ThomasD||

    It is a tempting retort. Especially when directed at the closeted statists who pretend to be libertarians. States pushing back on Federal overreach is one way to rein it in.

    Although I wouldn't call it outlawing abortion, I'd call it prosecuting people who kill innocent children in the name of medicine.

    As far as California goes, if they remain intent on denying their citizens their liberty it would seem the simpler approach to permission and taxation would be to sell a use license that would be required in order to possess, sell or purchase MJ, then price it accordingly.


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