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Weed Legalization Is Fueling A Boom In America’s Marijuana Black Market

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

States with full marijuana legalization are battling against robust illicit weed operations and are experiencing an increase in growing operations linked to drug cartels.

Drug smugglers continue to traffic marijuana across the U.S., allegedly taking advantage of the laws in states with full marijuana legalization. The distributors will grow their marijuana crop on land in states with legalization, often passing their operation off as a legal business. They will then smuggle the drugs into another state where the marijuana will sell at a much higher price, reports USA Today.

Officials recently charged 62 people in Colorado June 28 for running a marijuana distribution scheme spanning five states. The operation involved using Colorado’s legalization laws as a guise to open illegal businesses for growing marijuana. The conspirators would then sell the marijuana in other states, including Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio.

“Those of us in law enforcement kept saying, ‘(Legalization) will not stop crime,'” Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman told USA Today. “You’re just making it easier for people who want to make money. What we’ve done is give them cover.”

Officials in Oregon, which has full legalization, say legal cannabis only represents 30 percent of the state’s marijuana market. Oregon State Police estimate illicit growers are producing roughly 2 million more pounds of pot than what is purchased annually in the state.

Authorities also warn cartels are infiltrating states with full marijuana legalization to grow their illicit pot supplies.

“The cartel’s going to grow their marijuana in California because the risk is minimal,” Paul Bennett, a lieutenant with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in California, told USA Today. “We have immediately seen and began to experience an increase in these large-scale…plantations where 10,000, 25,000 plants are just growing in the open on public lands.”

A hiker came across a pot farm with possible links to Mexican drug cartels containing 7,400 marijuana plants hidden inside San Isabel National Forest in Colorado June 30.

Aside from criminals taking advantage of a shifting landscape, evidence suggests many smokers continue to buy their product illegally despite legalization laws in their state.

A study from the University of California Agricultural Issues Center released June 11 shows taxes and red tape surrounding the state’s recreational market, which officially opens in 2018, will dissuade some smokers from initially joining in. They estimate 29 percent of current California smokers will opt for illicit cannabis to avoid the new regulations and 15 percent retail tax coming in January.

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