The legalization of recreational marijuana in 2016 came with the promise that regulating weed sales would cripple the black market and bring in significant revenue for the state. However, the illegal market has grown to an unprecedented level and spurred a new wave of organized crime, violence, environmental destruction, worker exploitation, and deaths. The illicit market has also crippled California cannabis growers.
“The damage that I saw is huge in traditional cannabis growing communities where legacy growers are struggling to stay afloat or just dropping out completely and giving up,” says LA Times investigative reporter Paige St. John.
St. John says organized crime organizations, including those from New York, Milwaukee, Mexico, and China, are overwhelming law enforcement with a large number of greenhouses, automatic weapons and workforces. They are terrifying locals by setting up shops in areas including the Mojave Desert as well as hay fields and forests in the Emerald Triangle near the California-Oregon border.
“I had people who would not speak to me in their yard. We had to go into the house and even then, [spoke] in hushed voices because they didn't want the operation next door to know that they were talking to a reporter.”
She adds that some residents won’t even go to their own yards or back fence in fear of becoming victims of crime such as home invasions, armed robberies, kidnappings, and murders.