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Mireya Villarreal reports on two women who were forced to work as prostitutes by the illegal marijuana traffickers.

What’s happening

Ten years ago, the first states legalized recreational marijuana. Over the past decade the legit weed trade has exploded into a massive industry as personal pot use has quickly spread to more parts of the country.

The belief that the legal marijuana market would bring an end to the illegal weed trade is one of the main arguments used by legalization advocates.

That hasn't happened The marijuana black market has continued to thrive despite the fact that legitimate growers and sellers are struggling to stay afloat in areas of the country with a lot of illegal weed. According to an analysis from the Los Angeles Times, the illegal weed market in California is much larger than the licensed community. According to the report, unlicensed farms outnumbered legal operations by as much as 10 to 1.

Oregon and Colorado are two states that have legalized recreational marijuana. As the state worked to set up its new system for legal retailers, it encountered a booming market of unlicensed weed sellers. Canada and Thailand are examples of countries that have legalized pot.

The flourishing marijuana black market is hurting legitimate sellers. The proliferation of illegal pot farms has led to a surge in violent crime, human traffickers and severe environmental damage. States miss out on hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue when weed sales occur outside the legitimate market.

Why there’s debate

There is a lot of logic to the idea that legal weed will eliminate the black market for marijuana. There are many reasons why illegal weed hasn't been snuffed out.

Laws governing the legal trade in most states give huge advantages to illegal traders and even push them towards the black market. In many cases, starting and maintaining a legit marijuana business means having to deal with fees, taxes and bureaucratic hoops that can make it difficult for a lot of companies to stay afloat. Consumers are more likely to buy cheaper weed from off-the-books sellers if the price is higher.

As long as marijuana is illegal in large swaths of the country, the black market will continue, according to legalization supporters. Most states don't allow recreational pot use, but some allow it. If marijuana was legal everywhere, pro-pot advocates say illegal sellers would stop selling their products.

The legalization push is the problem according to many conservatives. The case is made that growing acceptance of marijuana has raised demand to a level that legal sellers can't meet. The expansion of the legal market has made it difficult for authorities to distinguish between legitimate and illegal operators. Many Democratic-run states have tied legalization to criminal justice reform efforts in order to make criminals less likely to be caught.

What’s next

Marijuana legalization is poised to expand to even more states due to ongoing struggles to control the black market. Maryland and Missouri will allow recreational use in the near future. In March, voters in Oklahoma will be asked if their state should follow suit. There are campaigns to get legalization measures on the ballot.


Operators can't compete because of overregulation.

The way in which the state has bungled legalization is demonstrated by the fact that unlicensed pot dealers are still thriving. Most local governments don't allow recreational sales and often impose caps on the supply. High taxes and bureaucratic barriers deter weed dealers from going legit.

Users go to the black market due to heavy taxes.

Legal weed is stagnant if there is too much taxation and regulatory baggage. Consumers who buy the most illegal weed care the most about the price difference and choose it over legal weed.

Millions of new customers have been created by legalization.

Black marketeers will either get into the game or increase the amount of illegal weed they sell if weed is legalized.

The legit market can easily absorb small-time illegal dealers.

The man down the street is still receiving visitors at all hours. The guy down the street is still underground because of the collective power of the state-sanctioned dispensary.

Legal weed is no longer a viable business proposition.

This county has a long history of boom-and-bust cycles, from gold mining in the 1800s to the crash of the logging industry a century later. It was going to be a lifesaver. Adam Elmahrek, Robert J. Lopez and Ruben Vives said that the promise has collapsed.

Law enforcement's ability to crack down on criminal operators is hampered by misguided social justice motives.

Marijuana is thought to be racist and bad, so the market is unregulated. The leaders are too squeamish to stop criminals from running businesses that break the law.

It's foolish to think that illegal pot sales will never disappear.

Black markets for alcohol, cigarettes, and a lot of goods exist for individuals who think this is a cannabis only issue. It is difficult to combat the black market. It is a battle of diminishing it.

If weed is illegal in the U.S., the black market will continue.

Marijuana is removed from the list of controlled substances by federal decriminalization. It would allow normal access to banks and allow more interstate sales.

In states where pot is still illegal, legal markets are helping to fuel illegal sales.

Pot is still illegal in a number of states. Gangs have been able to sell legal weed across state lines at a huge profit.

Users don't have any practical or moral incentives to abandon their buying habits.

The majority of growers and sellers did not break any laws. Mike DeVillaer, a drug policy researcher, told the National Post that cannabis consumers didn't see a great moral, ethical or safety advantage to switch to the new legal system.

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The photo illustration is from Yahoo News.