It has been four years since cannabis was legalized in the state of Colorado, but the black market has never been stronger. Simply put, the sheer revenue potential from illegal cannabis sales is large enough for many to take the risk of persecution.
State and federal officials conducted a three-year investigation and found that trafficking ballooned after voting for legalization in 2012.
While some might be quick to blame legalization, it appears the issue stems from the lack of uniform legalization. Unlike Canada, where the country made recreational cannabis legal on a federal level, the U.S. has not done so. Cannabis remains illegal on a federal level, but does allow individual states to make their own laws around recreational cultivation and consumption.
Colorado is one of only 10 states to legalize cannabis, leaving the rest of the U.S. accessing cannabis through the illegal market. This has led to a huge export problem, where legally grown cannabis is illegally exported to other states.
George Brauchler, district attorney for the 18th judicial district, likens Colorado to “the wild west of weed”, saying that small-scale home cultivation opened the door to large scale illegal operations.
“I’ve never seen the black market for marijuana as robust and as expertly cultivated, forgive that pun, as I have right now,” said District Attorney George Brauchler
The financial incentive to export cannabis is huge. With one pound of cannabis going for $1,000 in Colorado, Brauchler explained that this same pound will earn $4,000 to $5,000 in Florida’s black market.
This profit margin attracts large criminal organizations that grow crops in Colorado and then smuggle the plants to other states. In a large bust last month, for example, police reported that they seized 80,000 cannabis plants and 2,040 kg of harvest product, dealing a major blow to the illegal export of cannabis.
These kinds of targeted operations help temporarily, but Brauchler acknowledged that crime will always find a way. His view is the way to address Colorado’s illicit cannabis market is to have federal legalization.