MEDFORD, Ore. – Washington and Colorado are just days away from unveiling the country’s first legal marketplaces for marijuana. In just a few months, Oregon will be opening up its first medical marijuana dispensaries. But both marijuana advocates and police agree there will be much more drama to come on the law enforcement side.
They say there’s still the matter of what happens to the black market.
“If there was full legalization of marijuana, we’re still going to have the black market and the underworld of marijuana,” said Medford Police Lieutenant Kevin Walruff.
From Southern Oregon to the East Coast, black markets continue to drive demand for illegally-grown marijuana.
The problem for local police is that much of it is grown here.
“As it says on the sign in Grants Pass, it’s the climate,” said Walruff. “So there’s a lot from southern Oregon area that grows elsewhere.”
According to both police and marijuana advocates, is that new laws in states like Washington, Colorado, and Oregon don’t do anything to dispel the black market.
Instead, they create an alternate, state-controlled market for marijuana, while marijuana sold outside that market stays illegal.
And that underground won’t be going away.
“It’s creating a market for marijuana for personal use. But for the people that supply marijuana, it can be more lucrative for them to sell the cannabis out of state,” said Alex Rogers, CEO of Ashland Alternative Health.
Rogers says marijuana bought through highly regulated markets, whether medical or recreational, is often more expensive and less convenient than marijuana bought illegally. And selling marijuana to the state, when allowed, is far less profitable.
He says the only way to kill the black market is to create enough reason to go through the state marketplace, or just legalize all of it.
“No regulations involved, just ending the criminal penalties,” said Rogers. “Only then will you actually start to reverse the problems that are caused by the black market.”
Police say that possibility, whether right or wrong, doesn’t concern them. What they’re concerned about are the laws here and now, and people who break them.
As is the case with prescription drugs and opiods, they say there’s no such thing as fully eliminating a black market.