Looking for Black Market Bud in Southern California? Yelp Can Point the Way

Looking for Black Market Bud in Southern California? Yelp Can Point the Way

Original Post: Merry Jane: Looking for Black Market Bud in Southern California? Yelp Can Point the Way

[Canniseur: Not surprising. California has botched its legal cannabis market from the beginning. So have a lot of other states. Whether black market cannabis is better than what’s in the stores, is a different topic, but in the meantime, it appears that those looking for black market weed have to look no farther than YELP! for the nearest dealer. The problem with this is it’s illegal, but YELP! can’t police each and every comment made on their site…black market weed or legal weed…YELP! cannot have the staff to police this.]

Two years into adult-use cannabis legalization, California cannabis regulators are still stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the state’s prolific black market. And as SoCal cops continue to raid illicit dispensaries and wood chip their way through unlicensed grow sites, a new tool has emerged to help underground operators get the word out about their wares: Yelp.

Yes, the DIY food critic website has now evolved into a directory for Southern California’s vast network of black market dispensaries. According to a new investigation from NBC News, unlicensed pot shops across the Southland have profiles on the community review site, with location pins, posted hours, and countless reviews recommending unregulated flower, vape cartridges, edibles, and more.

“This is a clear public health threat that needs to be addressed,” Raphael Cuomo, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, where he is researching the vape crisis, told NBC. Cuomo said that companies like Yelp are rarely held accountable for their part in the cannabis black market because posts on the site come from community members, and not the website itself.

“We haven’t seen strong evidence that [Yelp is] going to suffer a great deal of backlash, whether from the public or legislators,” Cuomo added.

Previously, the Irvine-based website Weedmaps has served as the industry’s most visible dispensary directory, for both fully licensed and off-book pot shops. But at the turn of 2020, Weedmaps said that it would take steps to remove unlicensed listings and require state license verification from dispensaries.

“It simply isn’t true that unlicensed operators have an easy path to list on Weedmaps,” Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals told NBC about the site’s updated policies. “Between the vetting processes in place for our suite of products, internal reviews, and responses to reports from users, licensed shop owners, regulators, and law enforcement, Weedmaps has a robust process in place to ensure the cannabis operators on the site are licensed.”

In a direct response to the NBC investigation, Yelp officials said that they would begin implementing a license verification process of their own, but would not remove listings for unlicensed dispensaries. Instead, Yelp will place large red warnings on listings for dispensaries that have not provided the site with proof of their licenses.

“Removing local businesses from Yelp could hurt consumers as they would no longer have that resource for information, whether positive or negative, about the business,” a Yelp spokesperson told NBC. “Consumers have a right to speak their minds about all businesses, irrespective of licensing status.”

As of September 2019, California regulators estimated that the state had more than three times as many unregulated pot shops as fully licensed dispensaries. But no matter how many raids state and local cops make, the Golden State is still struggling to make a dent in the underground market. And with mainstream websites like Yelp leading the way for unscrupulous buyers, there might not be an end in sight.

“We are trying very hard to make it as difficult as possible for them to operate,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said. “But they continue to try to find ways around the system.”

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Original Post: Merry Jane: Looking for Black Market Bud in Southern California? Yelp Can Point the Way

Austin’s Police Chief Says Pot Arrests Will Continue Despite Decriminalization

Austin’s Police Chief Says Pot Arrests Will Continue Despite Decriminalization

Original Post: Merry Jane: Austin’s Police Chief Says Pot Arrests Will Continue Despite Decriminalization

[Canniseur: It seems as though law enforcement officers in Austin, TX haven’t got the word. And their chief wants to have the officers on the street continue to waste their time arresting small-time cannabis offenders. I wonder what the chief of police has been smoking? It’s certainly not cannabis!!!]

Historically, Austin is known as a bastion of progressivism in Texas’ sea of Southern red. But even amongst the city’s largely liberal population, Austin’s police department is apparently as hard-nosed as they come.

Last week, Austin City Council approved a new resolution to decriminalize minor cannabis possession, removing all penalties for personal-level pot crimes. But as soon as the local law was ratified, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley pushed back against city lawmakers, saying that his department would continue to target marijuana users.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Manley said during a news conference on Friday afternoon.

Under the city’s new decriminalization law, though, Manley and his officers will be wasting their time with pot charges. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Austin City Councilor Greg Casar said that neither tickets nor arrests will have any real-world consequence after any police interaction is over.

“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar told the Tribune.

The Austin cannabis decriminalization ordinance was passed in large part as a response to changes in state hemp legalization, and subsequent complications with pot prosecution. Since pot and hemp are often indistinguishable to the naked eye, a number of Texas pot cases have been thrown out, due to a lack of concrete testing for THC levels. Now, the City Council’s decriminalization law will make any hemp complications moot.

Still, Chief Manley has so far been adamant that Austin cops will ignore the local law shift, and told reporters on Friday that “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce state law.”

The City Council cannabis resolution specifically outlined a May 1st deadline for the Austin City Manager to report back on how police have been re-trained to respect decriminalization. Casar told reporters that he is hopeful Chief Manley will review and restructure department policy before the spring.

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Original Post: Merry Jane: Austin’s Police Chief Says Pot Arrests Will Continue Despite Decriminalization

Oregon Weed Sales Are 420% Higher at the Idaho Border

Oregon Weed Sales Are 420% Higher at the Idaho Border

Original Post: Merry Jane: Oregon Weed Sales Are 420% Higher at the Idaho Border

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[Canniseur: Why is this surprising? Of course, people in Idaho are smoking cannabis. And of course, they’d drive to the nearest place to get their favorite substance. And of course, Idaho is not benefiting from the additional taxes legalization would bring. Nothing is surprising here. States like Idaho that won’t bend with the prevailing forces will lose out…at least for now.]

Idaho isn’t known for its sandy beaches, but when it comes to legal cannabis, the state is its own kind of island surrounded by unlimited greenery in neighboring Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. And recently, it has become abundantly clear that Idaho residents are making the trek to Oregon’s eastern border in order to get their hands on some legal weed.

According to a new report from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, Beaver State pot sales spike by a whopping — and comically appropriate — 420% at dispensaries near the Idaho border. Similarly, legal weed sales in Washington State were higher at dispensaries closer to the Idaho border.

“The sales in counties along the Idaho border were much stronger than I anticipated,” Oregon state analyst Josh Lehner told the Associated Press. “Obviously recreational marijuana is not legal in Idaho, but even after throwing the data into a rough border tax model that accounts for income, number of retailers, tax rates and the like, there remains a huge border effect.”

Despite its proximity to some of the country’s earliest legalization adopters, Idaho has not yet budged on either medical or adult-use prohibition. But in the years since its West Coast neighbors legalized, research has already come out touting Idaho’s own benefits from legalization, such as a drop in DUI arrests.

And with many of Idaho’s most populous counties sitting just miles from the Oregon border, it is clear why many cannabis consumers are no longer paying attention to their home state’s strict weed laws. According to the Oregon economic report, three quarters of cannabis sales near the Idaho border were due to cross state commerce.

“Roughly speaking, about 75% of Oregon sales and more like 35% of Washington sales in counties along the Idaho border appear due to the border effect itself and not local socio-economic conditions,” the report detailed.

But if Idaho residents have it their way, the abnormal sales spikes in Oregon and Washington will quickly turn temporary. The Idaho Statesman reported that activists are currently collecting signatures to finally add a medical marijuana legalization question to the state’s 2020 ballot. At least we know the demand is already there.

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Original Post: Merry Jane: Oregon Weed Sales Are 420% Higher at the Idaho Border

Illinois City Will Use Weed Taxes to Pay Reparations for Black Residents

Illinois City Will Use Weed Taxes to Pay Reparations for Black Residents

Original Post: Merry Jane: Illinois City Will Use Weed Taxes to Pay Reparations for Black Residents

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[Canniseur: This is a huge and important first step for a city to make. Paying reparations out of cannabis taxes is more than a bit ironic, but important nonetheless. Reparations should happen at the state and/or federal level. In this current political situation, it’s not going to happen at the federal level though. If the U.S. federal government won’t step up, it’s up to the states and local communities to do the right thing.]

A landmark social equity program was approved in Evanston, Illinois late last week, establishing the nation’s first reparations program for black residents funded directly by legal weed taxes.

The new tax directive will funnel all of Evanston’s legal cannabis tax money to programs that will directly support the city’s black residents and repair centuries of racism dating back to the slave trade and continuing through institutional racism and policies like the War on Drugs. According to the Chicago Tribune, Evanston Aldermen approved the citywide ordinance 8-1.

“We can implement funding to directly invest in black Evanston,” Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons, who proposed the reparations bill, told the Tribune, noting that the Chicago suburb’s expected $500,000 to $750,000 in annual cannabis tax revenue will “be invested in the community it unfairly policed and damaged.”

While a number of Illinois’s small towns and suburbs have “opted out” of legalization by blocking dispensaries from popping up after next month’s recreational cannabis sales start, Evanston has taken the opposite approach and welcomed pot shops with open arms. And when tax cash starts rolling in from those dispensaries next month, Rue Simmons said that the reparations programs will be especially appropriate considering the history of racist marijuana policing in Evanston and beyond.

“This is a really special moment in the city of Evanston and also in the country,” Alderman Peter Braithwaite said.

Since the year 2000, Evanston has seen a significant decrease in black residents, from 22.5 percent of census respondents at the turn of the millenium to only 16.9 percent in 2017. It has not yet been decided how the money from the city’s new reparations program will be spent, but Rue Simmons and others suggested the funds could be used to reign in soaring housing costs, or to support local education, or economic programs.

“We are on the right track,” Alderwoman Ann Rainey told the Tribune.

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Original Post: Merry Jane: Illinois City Will Use Weed Taxes to Pay Reparations for Black Residents

Massachusetts Sold $400 Million of Weed During First Year of Legalization

Massachusetts Sold $400 Million of Weed During First Year of Legalization

Original Post: Merry Jane: Massachusetts Sold $400 Million of Weed During First Year of Legalization

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[Canniseur: $400 million in sales is nothing to sneeze at in Massachusetts in the first year. But I’d be willing to bet my whole stash that the black market raked in at least 4 times that amount. Do the math. If Massachusetts can get to about 80% legal, the market would be well north of a billion dollars. That’s a lot of tax revenue.]

If you’re in Massachusetts looking to find weed, you’re not alone. After exactly one year of recreational cannabis sales on the East Coast, Bay State regulators are reporting a strong and steady demand for legal weed to the tune of more than $1 million a day.

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission released its first set of yearly cannabis sales data this Wednesday, marking the first anniversary of the state’s groundbreaking industry. On a whole, cannabis consumers spent $393.7 million on marijuana in the last 12 months, in what CCC Chairman Steve Hoffman called a “very smooth” transition into adult-use legalization.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars in sales are one measure of success, but I am even prouder of the way in which Marijuana Establishments have worked with the Commission to gain and preserve compliance with our regulations and patrons continue to inform themselves about the law and their responsibilities when they visit Massachusetts stores,” Hoffman said in a statement to Boston.com.

From a tax standpoint, the first year of legal weed sales was a windfall for Massachusetts state coffers. CCC officials collected some $67 million in state excise tax from marijuana sales since dispensaries first opened — $4 million more than initial first-year predictions.

Since last November, the number of licensed cannabis dispensaries in Massachusetts has grown from just two stores at the outset to 33 today. And with another 54 pot shops already awarded provisional or final licensing, that number could expand to more than 80 during the state’s second year of legalization.

For comparison’s sake, Canada sold $1.1 billion worth of weed during its first year of legalization, but those numbers came from a country with more than six times the population of Massachusetts and hundreds of licensed dispensaries. At this point, its safe to say that America’s East Coast is ready for legal weed, and Massachusetts is blazing that trail.

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Original Post: Merry Jane: Massachusetts Sold $400 Million of Weed During First Year of Legalization

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