In 1996, California became the first state to establish a medical marijuana program through the Compassionate Use Act, which states that physicians can prescribe weed to patients with very specific medical conditions. But this move did not end up as the trailblazer that it sought to become, with illegal marijuana dispensaries still plaguing the state even after all these years.
According to an NBC News report, most medical weed dispensaries in and around Los Angeles are operating without licenses. In fact, a survey conducted by the University of California stated that “at least 75 percent of all the city’s dispensaries are in the business illegally.”
Why would any business want to operate cannabis illegally in a state where the substance is considered legal? Two words: regulation problems.
Instead of coming up with guidelines to regulate medical marijuana, California’s Compassionate Use Act gave the burden to local governments within the state. That was 482 cities and 58 counties with different marijuana regulations. It resulted to a lack of uniformity, with some cities totally banning the drug while others providing licenses for more than three dispensaries within the area.
The Los Angeles Police Department made efforts to thwart these illegal dispensaries, but it’s not an easy job for them. After all, it’s easy enough for these closed-down dispensaries to re-open in another city within the state pretty quickly. It also doesn’t help that California has limited its funds when it comes to fighting marijuana, since there are more serious crimes to talk about other than something that looks like a lost cause
Because of this, dispensaries that have opted to go legal are at a financial disadvantage compared to illegal dispensaries, since the former has to pay for annual licensing fees and other associated taxes. The lack of uniformity in marijuana regulation within such a vast state can make enforcement nearly impossible.
But such a thing isn’t limited to California. Colorado, considered to be one of the pioneers in legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana, has 228 out of 321 jurisdictions that still fully ban weed. Consumers have even expressed their willingness to turn to the black market just to avoid the high fees of buying legalized pot, as this could save them more than 60 percent of their money.
As for the business owners, this might be enough impetus for them to go the illegal route and run the risk of being caught instead.
Many cannabis advocates are pushing for the federal legalization of marijuana, but this might be a long time coming considering the regulation problems that states Colorado and California are experiencing. Furthermore, the current problem disincentivizes legal marijuana businesses as state governments cannot keep out their illegal competitors out of the market. Even investors in weed businesses might lose their interest if the black market will just continue to take away their profits.
Unless state and local governments can figure out how to properly regulate cannabis, this glitch just might prove to be the number one hindrance to marijuana’s expansion.
In your opinion, how can state and local governments solve marijuana regulation difficulties? Voice your opinions in the comments section below – your opinion matters to the nation.