Politics & Other Mistakes: Dope economics

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Uneasy about your job security? Nothing will make that worry be gone quicker than a toke of worry-b-gone. Because the most secure profession in Maine is marijuana dealer.

Of course, selling pot for recreational purposes is still illegal in this state. But stoners who retail weed for a living aren’t concerned. The chances of getting busted are minimal. The cops have more important things to do than chase small-scale transactions in the golf club parking lot with corporate executives who like a little sticky-icky after their game.

But won’t the impending arrival of legal “adult-use” marijuana (a euphemism that makes rolling a joint sound like playing with a sex toy) have a negative impact on the black market? If you think so, you must be high. Under the regulations being tweaked by Augusta bureaucrats, pot shops will be subject to so much red tape that the price they’ll be forced to charge will be significantly greater than under the current shadowy system.

Need proof? Consider the medical marijuana marketplace. For the first four years after legalization, pot sales from licensed dispensaries to people with qualifying health issues surged, growing from $7.8 million in 2013 to $26.6 million in 2016. Since then, even though the Legislature expanded the list of qualifying conditions for which the kind herb was considered beneficial, there’s been steady erosion.

That’s because the clinics have to charge higher prices than licensed caregivers, who aren’t as stringently regulated. Caregivers (another idiotic euphemism) are supposed to be limited to growing ganja for a maximum of five patients, but have found it easy to increase their customer base. First, they rotate the five people they’re entitled to serve, so there’s always an open slot. Second, many of them moonlight as illegal dealers.

Being a caregiver is the ideal cover for illicit sales, providing plausible explanations for all the little clues that previously would have given a pot producer away, such as excessive electric bills, large purchases of assorted plant-growing products or a certain distinctive odor. With those old-fashioned red flags neutralized, it’s a simple matter for caregivers to conceal the extra plants they grow for their lucrative side business.

How lucrative?

In Massachusetts, where retail pot is subject to crushing state oversight (not to mention rampant corruption), the Boston Globe reported, “About 75 percent of the state’s cannabis sales this year will take place under the table, according to industry analysts.”

If that’s correct, the dollar value of the Bay State’s black market is staggering. The Globe said legal pot shops have sold $104 million worth of product between November and the beginning of May, which means illegal sales amounted to over $300 million in the same period.

Maine’s market, both black and white, is obviously much smaller. But there’s ample evidence to indicate that illegal sales here amount to $100 million a year or more. And it’s all tax-free.

Legal retail sales, with their higher prices, will take a small portion of that mind-altering brownie, but it’ll mostly be just crumbs. Only the timidest of cannabis customers will shop regularly at legitimate outlets. The rebellious majority will continue to patronize their friendly neighborhood weed dealer, until such time as lawmakers learn to accept reality.

Which, of course, will be never.

Can’t ask for better job security than that.

Don’t Bogart your opinion, my friend, email it to me at aldiamon@herniahill.net.

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