A Milton woman was recently accused of conspiring to sell 220 pounds of marijuana through an illegal, online delivery company called Northern Herb, according to The Boston Globe. The business had $14 million in sales, employed 25 people and paid no taxes.
While Northern Herb was one of the largest marijuana operations recently shuttered by the government, the illicit market still plays a major role in marijuana consumption in the state. In 2019, it’s predicted that about 75 percent of weed sales will be illegal in Massachusetts, according to the Globe.
Given the tortoise-like rollout of licensed cannabis shops in Massachusetts since 2016, it may take several more years for legal operations to make an impact on black market sales, according to the Globe. There are currently only 15 marijuana retailers open in the Bay State, just one of which is in the Greater Boston area.
State regulators claim they issue licenses as quickly as possible given the strict laws, according to the Globe, which require potential shops to negotiate with local governments first. This can be a lengthy and burdensome process.
But the illegal marijuana market will continue to flourish if regulators don’t cut red, rather, green tape. By allowing localities to hold power over whether a weed shop can open, the expansion of legal stores will be slow — meaning illegal sales will continue to flourish.
If you voted to legalize marijuana in the state, you should allow a store to open in your area. NIMBYism cannot be a barrier to the recreational market, especially if it is rooted in the false and sometimes racist perception that marijuana shops increase crime rates in the area.
These stores should, in general, be perceived and treated like alcohol stores — granted with some additional regulations, such as limits on the quantity an individual can purchase. The notion that marijuana is a more dangerous drug than alcohol is a stigma we must continue to erase.
An efficient rollout of marijuana distributors is also hard because the drug remains illegal at the federal level. Because of this, weed shops can generally only deal in cash and cannot receive loans, which is a security risk.
But increased legalization across many states, as well as successful recreational development in places like Massachusetts, puts pressure on federal lawmakers to change this antiquated policy.
Allowing for legalization will eventually reduce illegal sales. This is beneficial for two reasons: it increases tax revenue and reduces the potency of the underground marijuana market.
Last year in states with a more established legal marijuana industry, underground sales made up less than half of cannabis sales, according to data cited in the Globe. In Colorado, which was one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, just 33 percent of weed sales were illegal in 2018.
Moreover, among national leaders, the haze around marijuana legalization seems to be clearing. All of the 2020 presidential candidates — including Bay State Republican Bill Weld — support legalizing weed nationwide, according to the Globe. Trump has said it’s a decision that should be left up to the states.
Marijuana stores are necessary in order to curb the illicit weed economy. The more of them there are, the safer marijuana consumption will be as more of the product going to consumers will be regulated and checked for quality. And of course, this will bring in more tax revenue — allowing the Commonwealth to fully reap the benefits of its 2016 decision to legalize.