But with federal decriminalization likely to emerge this year, that leaves the onus of dismantling illegal marijuana demand on states and consumers.
Since November 2020, the number of legal states has jumped from 12 to 19, with Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Vermont and New Jersey launching adult use markets. Economists say the reduced demand for weed on the black market had an immediate effect on its production. In about the same time frame, according to Whitney, illicit cannabis production in Oregon fell from about 3.5 million pounds in 2021 to about 3.2 million pounds in 2022.
However, legalizing the state is not a panacea. How the new cannabis market is regulated has almost the same effect as the legislation itself. Illinois began selling recreational weed in January of 2020, but only 32 percent of the cannabis sold in the state last year was legal, according to a Whitney report. Meanwhile, Montana opened its doors in January — and Whitney says 75 percent of the herbs sold in that state are legal — similar to more mature markets like Washington and Colorado.
“Regardless of rationing, if the cost remains high for individuals – remains a barrier to buying – then they will go to [illicit] Rahul Gupta, director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy, told Politico in September. “You can legalize it and it will still cost a lot.”
There are many reasons why the illegal market persists in any given state or city. However, these states still demonstrate the influence of different regimes. Licenses to grow and sell marijuana are cheap and available in states like Montana and Washington, while they are limited and expensive in Illinois. In Seattle, there is approximately one dispensary for every 15,000 residents. Chicago has one clinic for every 159,000 residents. Additional costs such as licensing and product testing fees are often passed on to consumers, and states with fewer growers enable producers and distributors to set higher prices.
New York, which legalized marijuana last year, will soon open its dispensary doors — but already in the gap between legalization and licensed sales, the gray market has thrived. You can buy marijuana from Bodega in New York City But none of them are licensed or regulated.
As three women Scrambled under the plastic that morning, law enforcement brought in bulldozers to clear the grounds of tents, greenhouses, and personal belongings left by runaway workers.
“When the cops came in…we ran away with everything we were wearing,” Isabella said. “A lot of people ran away in pajamas, with all their clothes on and without shoes.”
As the equipment approaches, Isabella remembers telling her sister, “We have to go out, or they’ll run over us with the machine.”
From their hiding place, they saw two men emerging from a nearby river to retrieve the clothes they had left behind. They followed them again through a tangle of thorny blackberry bushes and into the water.
“My whole body was scratched, because we were throwing ourselves [the bushes]Isabella said.
Later that day, a Hispanic man found the workers walking along the road and brought them back to his farm, where he explained the situation to his American boss and provided them with food and water.
This was the last time women worked on a cannabis farm. Now, Isabella, Leticia, and Maria share a studio apartment and earn a living in other industries.
“We work in the vineyards,” Leticia said, “sometimes we clean houses, and things like that.” “Sometimes we leave for flower season” to pick tulips.
Employers actually pay them. However, the work is harder – and the pay is not so good, which makes them hardly anything to support their relatives in Mexico.
“We simply want to earn money to send money to our families,” Isabella said.
Isabella, Leticia and Maria say they will never again work on cannabis plantations – whether legal or illegal. But their places will be taken by dozens of undocumented workers, who will face the same exploitation.
“It’s not like you have to do more than just scratch the surface to hear such stories,” Padilla said.