News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Business & Economy

​Why recreational pot legalization won't end the black market overnight

A user prepares to roll a marijuana cigarette on the first day of legal possession of marijuana for recreational purposes in the District of Colombia.
A user prepares to roll a marijuana cigarette on the first day of legal possession of marijuana for recreational purposes in the District of Colombia.
Alex Brandon/AP

Listen to story

Download this story 18MB

If California's Prop 64 passes, recreational marijuana would become legal. But legalization still won't eliminate the black market. 

That's because new regulations will likely make marijuana more expensive and pot will still be illegal for many of California's neighbors.

Jon Caulkins, Professor of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and the co-author of 'Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,' explained more about what recreational pot legalization would— and wouldn't— change in California.

Interview highlights:

Will the black market continue to exist if recreational weed is legal in California?

"Absolutely. In the short- or medium-term. The thing to realize is it's not as if every state is its own island unto itself. Most of the black market cannabis that California produces is exported to other states. California legalizing its markets won't change the fact that people can produce illegally in California and ship to the rest of the country."

What about in the long-term? Will recreational pot legalization have an impact on the black market or on drug-related crime then?

"Let's just guess maybe 15 years after California legalizes, the nation as a whole will legalize. [Or] maybe all but a couple of states that stay dry. When the nation has legalized, as long as you don't have super high taxes or other restrictions, then, yeah, legal companies will out compete criminals. Farmers are better at farming cannabis then crooks are. But, no, that won't really do much about drug-related crime, because most drug-related crime is associated with cocaine, crack, heroin and meth, not marijuana."

What about the impact on drug-trafficking organizations if California legalizes recreational marijuana?

"Let's go 15 years down the road and imagine that the whole country legalizes. Our best guess is that the trafficking organizations maybe derive 20 or 25 percent of their drug income from marijuana, as opposed to heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamines. And they also derive some income from non-drug activities. Especially if you think of the Mexican organized crime groups. They're into extortion, kidnapping and other sources. So yes it's a hit, but it's not like they will close up shop and go out of business."

How could recreational pot legalization impact the consumption of tobacco, alcohol, prescription opiates and other drugs?

"By and large, time will tell. For alcohol, the research literature is split right down the middle. The literature on tobacco is actually pessimistic-- increased cannabis use has in the past triggered greater smoking. And for prescription opiates, there are only a small number of studies, but they are encouraging. That is, that where medical marijuana has become available, there have been declines in the number of deaths from opiate prescriptions. But precisely because marijuana doesn't kill people, it doesn't cause much drug-related crime, it's in itself in some sense not a big issue, these indirect effects on the drugs that do kill a lot of people, could 25 years from now really color whether we think this was a good or a bad experiment."

To hear the full interview, click the blue player above.

Series: From Gold To Green

This story is part of Take Two's special coverage on what the legalization of recreational pot could mean for California's economy, criminal justice system and society. 

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts and questions below in the comments section or on Take Two's Facebook page.