Police say a “gray market” of illegal pot dealing is “thriving” under the state’s marijuana legalization laws, and they’re concerned that it will boom as it has in states like California, where it is undercutting the licensed operations.
“The gray market is already here,” Walpole police Chief John Carmichael told the Herald.
“If you look back at when the proponents proposed that we legalize marijuana in Massachusetts, one of the big things they stood by was that it was going to, and I quote, ‘Rid Massachusetts of the illicit market,’ ” said Carmichael, who is on the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board. “There’s nothing further from truth. It won’t rid us of the illicit market. It will make it much worse.”
The new law allows up to 12 plants in a home with two adults. Each adult in a home is allowed to possess 10 ounces of pot in addition to the plants. Home pot-growing operations in Quincy, Tewksbury, Springfield, Clinton, Rehoboth and other towns have been busted in recent high-profile cases that involved larger amounts.
But police chiefs say the new law makes it harder to arrest people unless they catch them in the act of selling.
“The illicit market thrives under legalization because they can do it under the guise of the law,” Carmichael said. “We created more problems than we could have imagined.”
Chelsea police Chief Brian Kyes said, “They could grow as much as they want until it’s brought to the attention of law enforcement.”
“There’s no reason to believe that will subside simply because of the availability for recreational marijuana,” Arlington police Chief Fred Ryan said, adding that he expects to see a rise in drug-related violence.
“The violence goes along with that business and we expect that to continue if not escalate,” Ryan said.
A quick Google search for “Marijuana delivery in the Boston area” brings up numerous entities that “will deliver marijuana to your front door,” Carmichael said. He noted his officers have arrested several online sellers. “Those are not regulated markets, they’re not retail markets, they’re not taxed markets. That is the illicit market.”
But Jim Borghesani, who served as spokesman for the Bay State’s legalization campaign and now works as the chief operating officer of Tudestr, a cannabis consulting company out of Boston, insisted that legalization will reduce the illicit market.
“It’s one of the primary benefits to knocking out the criminal market that has controlled cannabis commerce for decades,” Borghesani said.
“Why would you buy it on the street in an illegal transaction when you’re not sure the product you’re buying doesn’t have poison in it.”
In California, authorities say outlaw dispensaries in Los Angeles County greatly outnumber the licensed storefront retailers — and undercut their prices.
Buyers can get pot products cheaper at illegal outlets that don’t charge or pay taxes, according to Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, a trade organization that represents cannabis growers, distributors and dispensary owners. He called it an “unfair competitive situation for licensed businesses.” In Colorado, another legal pot state, news reports indicate police have seen illegal growing operations surge.
“The notion that the illicit market, the gray market is not going to exist now because we legalized marijuana and we’re going to have retail stores isn’t true, and there’s no evidence of anything like that remotely happening in other states,” Carmichael said.