This fall will mark four years since California voters signed off on a measure legalizing recreational marijuana, but the state’s illicit weed market continues to dwarf the regulated one. 

Regulators are aiming to change that, with the California Bureau of Cannabis Control reportedly asking state legislators to approve a robust crackdown effort. According to the Sacramento Bee, the bureau asked the lawmakers in a state budget request “to let it build an 87-member police force that would enforce the 2016 law voters passed legalizing recreational cannabis,” saying it would “create the law enforcement branch by absorbing 58 positions from another department, and hiring 29 more cannabis cops.”

Regulated Versus Illicit

While California has seen a number of legal pot shops open for business since the new law took effect, they have still struggled to keep pace with the unregulated market that operated in the Golden State for decades before prohibition finally ended. In fact, some of those shops may not be licensed. Last year, lobbyists for the state’s legal weed industry complained that Weedmaps, an app that lists cannabis dispensaries in the area, continued to show listings for illegal dispensaries.  

The United Cannabis Business Association, which represents licensed marijuana dispensaries in the state, has urged California Gov. Gavin Newsom to ramp up the pressure on those illicit dispensaries by more stringently enforcing a bill passed and signed into last year that allows the state to impose $30,000 a day fines against unlicensed dealers. The group said at that time that the illicit market was three times larger than the regulated one. The Sacramento Bee reported cannabis operators in the unregulated California market “made an estimated $8.3 billion in sales in 2019, compared to the $3.1 billion the legal market made.” 

It’s been a similar story north of the border, where Canada’s legal weed market has also lagged behind the unregulated market. By October of last year, 12 months after Canada legalized marijuana, the country’s regulated market had generated $1 billion in weed sales, compared to an estimated $5 and 7 billion on the unregulated market.

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