The national media has discovered a new mystery to pour over. Why, in the wake of legalization, have illicit sales of marijuana continued to grow? Sometimes at an even faster rate than prior to the new law? And with pronounced negative impact?

Take Oregon, for instance. Here’s a report from The Guardian.

Something’s not right in southern Oregon’: alarm at rise of illegal pot farms

And here’s another, this time from the Politico website.

Why Legal Weed Didn’t Kill Oregon’s Black Market

No question, the continued existence of a thriving outlaw cannabis industry is trouble for the licensed growers. Some examples:

  • The popularity of illegally produced cannabis has undermined the price structure. “A pound of cannabis that was worth $3,000 in 2009 here might now fetch $400,” say the authorities. Translation: rosy revenue projections from the legal pot industry haven’t been realized. What about all that tax revenue that state and local governments were counting on? Suddenly it isn’t there.
  • The smaller, locally owned, independent growers – intended to benefit from licensing– have instead found themselves all but shut out of the marketplace, unable to compete with cheaper alternatives.
  • Sadly, rather than eliminating drug crime, there’s a pronounced increase in criminal activity around cannabis. It’s even attracted interest from organized criminal syndicates from around the world — some from Mexico, naturally, but also “Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Chinese…”, according to the local sheriff. Not the kind of business interests any community wants.
  • Outlaw cannabis growers bring in “…migrant workers [who] live under armed guard, without refrigeration or sanitation.” That sounds like human trafficking of the worst sort.
  • As for the environment, a wide range of problems — such as water usage. The presence of “…illegal farms depleting aquifers by pumping from protected rivers and digging huge pits to tap into the groundwater.” The newcomers simply dig a hole wherever they want. No surveys, no licenses, no approvals. Suddenly neighboring communities find their own wells have stopped producing enough, or run dry.

I supposed we should categorize the above as unintended consequences of cannabis legalization. It usually results from inadequate planning and preparation. There’s quite a bit of that going around, often motivated by eagerness to tap into what they expected would be a lucrative new revenue source.

“You mean greed,” a colleague said. I guess I do.

Ironically, most of the outlaw cannabis grown in Oregon gets shipped out of state, not only to California, but to other neighbors, such as Idaho. It made me think of the problems the city of Chicago had reducing gun violence, when gang members could wander over to Indiana to purchase weapons prohibited in the City. It’s common in situations where states make laws that can adversely affect their neighbors.

As always, there’s a mess to clean up, and it won’t be easy.