California’s illegal cannabis market is thriving because state taxes there are too high, says a Reason article to which my friend Dr. Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML for decades, recently wrote a Foreword. Dale points out other causes, too, like costs of regulation, lack of licenses, local taxes, and a huge legacy market.
I wrote Dale to say that weak enforcement of laws against tax evasion, too, must be a major problem in California, and that no tax burden is low enough to marginalize the illegal market if marijuana tax evasion is winked at, as in California, where the crime is a misdemeanor, and the only penalty to fear, apparently, is a $500 fine (or getting water and power cut off). What, I asked, about the statutory penalty of six months in jail – is that actually happening?
Here’s Dale’s reply, which he authorized me to quote:
With regards to what’s happening in California, no one is going to jail for pot. But they’re not going to jail for robbery and assault either.
There are so many illegal dispensaries in LA that the cops rarely try to bust them. And if they do, there’s not much they can forfeit. The culprits rarely have much money with which to pay fines.
There are bills in the legislature to raise the penalties for illegal cultivation, but I wouldn’t expect them to have much impact. We’ve been there before. The state tried unsuccessfully for forty years to end the trade that way.