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Will California’s Legal Marijuana Cost More Than Black-Market Weed?

Chloé Harper Gold

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California is closer than ever to finalizing legalized recreational cannabis. But growers, dispensary owners and consumers alike might discover that legal weed comes with a hefty price–literally. With the prospect of legalized recreational pot looming, experts are wondering: Will legal cannabis in California cost more than black-market weed?

Cannabis in California

The history of lawful cannabis in the state of California is a long one. In 1996, residents voted in favor of Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. When Proposition 215 was passed and enacted, California became the first state in the nation to have legal medical marijuana. This one act set a precedent throughout the rest of the country.

Ever since the Compassionate Use Act passed, the Golden State’s medical marijuana program grew and evolved. Today, California is widely known for having lax and flexible requirements for a patient to qualify for a medical card. However, because cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, a black market for it exists and thrives nearly everywhere.

Because the world of cannabis is constantly growing, laws revolving around it are always changing. In 2016, California residents voted in favor of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. As the name suggests, this act will legalize weed for adults and will permit them to possess up to an ounce of flower and up to six live plants. There will, however, be regulations to prevent certain behaviors, like driving while stoned and delivering bud via drone.

Licenses for recreational dispensaries are expected to be issued in 2018.

The Colorado Comparison

Colorado’s legalized recreational weed hit the dispensary shelves in January 2014. The state’s cannabis users were elated. They were suddenly able to buy weed legally in a clean and orderly fashion. And even better–the price of pot was significantly lower than the bud they would be otherwise forced to purchase from a black market dealer.

That might not be the case when California goes green. In fact, it may prove to be just the opposite.

Because of the huge amount of cannabis being grown in California, the wholesale price of weed has recently plummeted. In addition to that, the recreational cannabis that will be sold starting in January 2018 will need to be tested for impurities and adulterants, such as pesticides. The cost of those tests will be tacked on to the price, along with the additional cost of taxes and other fees.

According to the chair of the California Growers Association board, Tawnie Logan, the additional costs of legal recreational weed will bump the price up significantly. In an interview with The New York Times, she compares the prices of an eighth of an ounce of weed. In a California dispensary, one would need to pay $50; most black market dealers charge a mere $20.

Final Hit: California’s Legal Marijuana Might Cost More Than Black-Market Weed

Logan predicts that in the first month of 2018, the sales of legal cannabis will be high due to the novelty of buying recreational weed in a dispensary. However, like all novelties, it will get old. Cannabis users will grow tired of paying more and will go back to purchasing from illegal dealers. Of course, this will lead to law enforcement getting involved. People will continue to get into legal trouble for buying and selling weed through illicit channels. Then, California is back to square one. If there’s a solution to this problem, no one seems to have figured it out yet. We can only hope that this issue will be solved sooner rather than later.

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