Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. have passed some sort of laws that legalize marijuana, ranging from limited medical use to legal recreational use. Last month the state of Illinois signed a historic law allowing Illinois residents 21 and over to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis flower, 5 grams of concentrate and 500 milligrams of THC infused in edibles and other products, while out-of-state visitors may have up to half those amounts, effective in January 2020. However, due to the number of states that still have not moved towards legalization, the black market for pot continues to thrive.
According to Politico, Idaho reported a 665 percent increase in the amount of illicit marijuana officers seized. Neighboring state Oregon, which was one of the earliest states to legalize marijuana back in 2014, is overproducing the crop, cultivating 3 times the amount demanded by consumers within the state. Politico reported, “When Oregon legalized marijuana in 2014, the state tried very hard to stifle its black market by ensuring the path into the legal market was as easy as possible. It did not limit licenses and it simplified regulations, creating a program with one of the lowest barriers to entry in the United States.”
The results looked good for Oregon, with their Department of Revenue reporting it would distribute “$85 million in marijuana taxes for schools, public health, police and local governments,” with the largest share going towards schools. However the state is now trying to limit the number of licences in Oregon, citing the illicit market. Oregon State Police Sgt. Brandon Boice told Politico, “There’s still high demand for Southern Oregon marijuana throughout the country, that has not changed. There might be more illicit marijuana growing in Southern Oregon than there was before legalization, with almost all of it heading out of the state.”
Colorado, which also legalized recreational leaf, reported surpassing $1 billion in tax revenue from legal pot sales, while using the funds for youth and public health programs, including mental health services, youth literacy initiatives and anti-bullying programs similar to Oregon. Meanwhile in neighboring state Wyoming, law enforcement reported “an increasing amount of marijuana in dispensary packaging since legalization in nearby states.” In a report by the Casper Star Tribune, a woman named Ali Kistler, who was arrested for possession with intent to deliver, and possession of marijuana, spoke from her experience saying, “It happens all the time, I’ve known people to get caught and I’ve known people to not ever get caught. It’s comparable to a game of Russian roulette for sure. Legalization has led to more arrests and seizures of marijuana,” she said. “It’s not really always people trying to sell it, people get tired of dealing with the law out here. It’s easier, cheaper and lower risk than working with people in town because you never know who’s going to drop names to get a lesser sentence when they get caught.”
Kistler’s theory may be accurate. A study by the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Nebraska Center for Justice Research showed that “the rate of marijuana arrests in Nebraska grew by 11% in 2014 compared to 2013. The rate of marijuana sale arrests more than doubled in border and panhandle counties while I-80 and comparison counties experienced smaller increases; overall, the rate of sale arrests per 1000 residents is very low (<1.28), and 10 increased slightly across the state.”
According to The Hill, “Public opinion polls show that legalizing marijuana has become more politically popular over the years, especially after Washington and Colorado became the first state to do so in 2012. A Marist College poll conducted for NPR and PBS NewsHour released Monday shows 62 percent of registered voters, including two-thirds of independents, say legalizing recreational marijuana is a good idea.”
On June 20th this year, The House of Representatives approved a far-reaching measure on Thursday to prevent the Department of Justice from interfering with state marijuana laws, including those allowing recreational use, cultivation and sales. State Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) spoke to MarijuanaMovement before the voice vote saying, “This is what the American people have demanded, why it is now legal in 33 states, it is supported by two-thirds of the American public, and 90 percent for medical marijuana. It’s time that we extend this protection to state-legal activities so they can drive and move forward.”