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Segregation in Colorado's marijuana black market

Marijuana is stored in bins for trimming and packaging in preparation to be sold retail at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver.

Brennan Linsley/AP

Marijuana is stored in bins for trimming and packaging in preparation to be sold retail at 3D Cannabis Center, in Denver.

Legal pot dealers in Washington state and Colorado are handing out the green and raking it in.

In just the first five months of this year, recreational pot sales brought in $23.6 million to Colorado alone.

But behind the scenes, a black market still exists in that state.

"If you're buying a $30 eighth of Trinity, you're going to pay more than $7 in taxes," says Washington Post reporter Tina Griego. "People are not really willing to pay that much money in taxes when they can still get it pretty easily on the street."

Plus, buying marijuana in Colorado can yield nice profits once it's taken across state lines.

"If you can buy a pound of marijuana in Colorado for $2,200," says Griego, "The farther east you travel, the more valuable it becomes. By the time you're hitting the East Coast, you're looking at about $5,000 a pound."

This black market also thrives because of the growers and dealers who've been at the business for years. But they've been shut out of the legal market, and they see that divide along color lines.

"These are Chicano people who will say, 'We were in many ways unfairly stigmatized for the use of marijuana,'" Griego explains, "'And now that it's legal, we have been shut out because now we have criminal records, we don't have the money to invest, we don't have the credit scores that are required.'"

Meanwhile, she says those same people see legal markets as the place where white, middle-class suburbanites shop for their marijuana, not themselves.

Griego says these black markets may continue to exist so as long as higher taxes and the demand for pot outside the state exist, too -- it's a way for them to continue their practices. 

"That black market that operates beneath the camouflage of the legal market: that's a tough nut to crack," says Griego.


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