Authorities and regulators admit that this rise in black market activity is partly a growing pain, resulting from unforeseen consequences of legalization.

The relaxed attitude about marijuana use has emboldened some growers and dealers who do business without a license.

Legalization was supposed to kill the black market for marijuana, creating avenues for official businesses that would raise some tax income for the state of Colorado. However, some dealers have chosen to stay in the black market, taking advantage of the new, relaxed attitude towards the drug to expand their illegal grow and deal operations.

“We thought that the black market would disappear,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “Evidently it contracted and then began to expand again, and that’s counter-intuitive, right? It is not what you would expect.”

Colorado voted to legalize the drug in 2013, reasoning that jailing citizens over a relatively harmless drug was doing more harm than good. The state allows people 21 years of age or older to buy or grow reasonable amounts of marijuana. But despite these good intentions, some have taken advantage of the new, destigmatized political climate to upgrade their operations to the point where they are “just like a corporation,” according to Bob Troyer, Colorado’s former US attorney.

These organizations also smuggle the goods outside to illegal states. Authorities have found contraband Coloradoan marijuana in more than 34 states. The pot can be traced back to huge illegal grow operations found in state parks, farmland or even inside neighborhood homes. A significant portion of the marijuana black marketeers hail from outside the United States, from places as far as Mexico, Cuba and even China.

“The thing that nobody predicted (was that) normalization, commercialization, would be a magnet for international black market activity,” explained Troyer.

Authorities and regulators admit that this rise in black market activity is partly a growing pain, resulting from unforeseen consequences of legalization.


“I think one of the mistakes that was made in Colorado and some other states is allowing for home cultivation,” said Chris Woods, who founded a marijuana grow and retail business called Terrapin Care Station. “What we’re seeing right now is a lot of clean-up from the mistakes that have been made.”

At least one regulation has been overturned and cleaned up since legalization: the 99 plant rule. Originally, the state allowed medical marijuana patients, and their caregivers, to store and grow up to 99 plants.

“I think the 99 plant thing really opened the floodgates. No other states (allowed) any numbers like that,” said DEA agent Kevin Merrill. “Outside organizations took advantage of that … If you got 10 people signed up, you effectively could have 999 plants in a residence.”

Authorities believe that as long as there is demand from illegal states, the black market will continue to grow.

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