Marijuana has been fully legal in the state of California for almost two years, and yet the black-market for it is still thriving more than the actual legal market. According to an analysis completed by California cannabis sellers, illegal sellers outnumber legal marijuana retailers three to one! The biggest culprit is the internet, there’s a vast online marketplace and many websites that actually list off different locations and individuals you can buy marijuana from, legally or illegally.
One of the biggest online resources being used in the state is a website known as Weedmaps, which the government is determined to shut down, along with any other website that holds a similar function. California cannabis regulators sent out a state-wide warning this week to websites like and including Weedmaps, stating that the inherit function of their website is illegal, and if it continues to stay active, heavy legal fines will be administered.
The United Cannabis Business Association, a statewide group of legal marijuana businesses, found that “about 2,835 illicit sellers, including storefronts and delivery services, are operating statewide. That’s more than three times as many illegal sellers as legal ones — 873,” according to their website.
“We’re the only state to go recreational and see a year-over-year reduction in legal sales,” UCBA president Jerred Kiloh said in an interview with NBC News. These results were shocking, frankly, to the legal marijuana distributors in the state. California is the world’s largest legal cannabis market, so when the herb actually did become fully legal (medically and recreationally for individuals 21 and over), the economy was expected to thrive, however, they didn’t account for illegal sellers to begin advertising as legal distributors. These store fronts are mainly popping up in Los Angeles and San Diego, most likely due to the large size of both cities and more relaxed enforcement of checking the legality of store fronts.
The UCBA is targeting Weedmaps as their first major legal counter attack, the website is international, however, making it more difficult to shut down. The website itself lists all the marijuana retail distributors in a given place and since it’s international, the site doesn’t check if every store listed is state approved or not. In 2018, the state of California sent the website a cease-and-desist letter claiming that Weedmaps was “aiding and abetting in violations of state cannabis laws.”
The site is potentially liable to pay $30,000 a day, which warranted a response from the websites CEO, who promised that every illegally advertised retailer will be removed from the site by the end of the year. Legal retailers aren’t satisfied with the slow pace, and have stated that Weedmaps shouldn’t have a say in “when they decide to stop breaking the law” which ignited a retaliation in Chris Beales, Weedmaps CEO. Beales claims that his website isn’t the reason behind why the California black market is thriving more than the legal market. He claims it’s due to a lack in supply, therefore, there’s a lack of demand.
“No other recreational marijuana state has seen the black-market issues. This is really superficial. The real underlying problem is that there’s insufficient licenses address market demand. When California voters made recreational marijuana usage legal, they gave cities leeway to outlaw sales or limit them locally as they saw fit,” Beales stated in a claim to NBC News.
The California law basically states that local governments can restrict and regulate marijuana sales as strictly as they want, which has lead to a massive decline in actual retail locations for recreational marijuana. In fact, less than 25% of the state actually allows the legal sale of it. In addition, these legal locations are charging nearly 25% in taxes for every purchase, because the law enforces state and local tax to be added on. The strict regulations within the State make it as if marijuana isn’t even legal outside of San Diego and LA.
Law enforcement has cracked down even more on the shutting down of illegal dispensaries that aren’t properly licenced, and this year alone have shut down over 1,000 locations in Los Angeles alone. The crackdowns and removal may not be ideal for recreational users who aren’t a fan of the expensive tax and distant travels they may have to do to get to a legal dispensary, but unfortunately has become one of the top concerns for crime investigators in the state.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.