L.A. Times Investigates California’s Marijuana Legalization Disaster
The Los Angeles Times has released a heavily researched, heavily reported investigation on the many, many ways that California’s legalization of marijuana has been a disastrous mess.
Titled “Legal Weed, Broken Promises,” the four stories of the series painstakingly illustrate the breadth of the illegal grow operations scattered across much of the rural parts of California, the political corruption and bribery that has come from the way the state has given politicians control over licensing, and the spread of unlicensed dispensaries that are seemingly uncontainable.
The amount of work the journalists put in to document the extent of the problem is laudable for providing valuable context for how badly California has screwed this up. Most people in California know what a disaster legalization has been. Most people know that the black market still accounts for the majority of marijuana purchases in California. Most people (especially those who live outside the big cities) are well aware of all the illegal grow operations. What this series does is provide specific examples of the dangerous environment that still exists, full of threats, violence, and even murder.
But the series is not without its flaws, the biggest of which is a relatively poor grasp of markets and the limits of the power of government to control how people interact with them, which is particularly true in a state as massive as California. There is the assumption in these stories that the breakdown in the system is due to a lack of control and enforcement by police and regulators. The stories are reluctant to address the real sources: The extent of state and local taxes drive up prices, and the ability of local officials to decide who can participate in cannabis is a huge factor in the persistence of the black market. While the stories do bring up these issues to provide some context, they really don’t contend with how much of the California black market is a result of the exorbitant costs to do business legally in the state.
Instead, the illegal grow operations and unlicensed dispensaries are presented as a failure of enforcement. In a story about illegal dispensaries that dot Los Angeles County (there are probably hundreds of them in both the county and
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