A Colorado budget committee slashed a huge chunk of funding for a grant that supports law enforcement busts of illicit and gray-market pot operations.
The Colorado Legislature's Joint Budget Committee slashed $5 million over the next three years for the Gray and Black Market Marijuana Enforcement Grant program, Westword reported on Tuesday. The committee's budget summary stated the program "has been over-appropriated and underutilized since its inception."
Colorado's Division of Criminal Justice stated in a 2021 marijuana impact report that court filings related to weed fell by 55% between 2012 to 2019. The number of all marijuana arrests declined by 68% during the same period, and possession arrests dropped by a hefty 71%.
Such a move appears quite divergent from the reality in other states that are struggling to contain their unlicensed market. For instance, Illinois, where illicit pot raked in a cool $4 billion in yearly sales some 18 months after legalization. California’s weed production was estimated to be 80% to 90% unlicensed even after four years of recreational legalization.
Consumer prices can’t explain the discrepancy, even if, in Colorado, high quality cannabis will cost you an average of $241.74 per ounce. According to the Oxford Treatment Center's data pulled from PriceOfWeed.com, that’s the nation’s third-lowest dispensary pricing, following Oregon ($210.75) and Washington State ($232.90). California comes in at $257 per ounce of chronic — hardly an insurmountable variation. Tax rates are also somewhat similar between the two states, though California does levy a tax on cultivators, unlike Colorado.
But Colorado’s seeming success in controlling its weed industry may rest on several factors. One, the state government is still, strangely, kind of an asshole about weed’s categorization. THC, the heady component of cannabis, is somehow still classified as a Schedule I drug under state law in one of the first states to legalize recreational, meaning that those that run afoul of state regulations could face civil asset forfeiture and prison time. In California, illegal cultivation of marijuana has been classified as a misdemeanor, meaning that unlicensed growers don’t have to face hard time if they take that risk.
(Judge this as a success or failure as you will. But remember kids, it is more important to keep people out of jail for cannabis-related crimes in a racially-biased law enforcement system than it is to protect the bottom line of weed businesses!)
Colorado’s nation-leading recreational industry may have also benefited from enduring media hype after being the first to launch legal recreational pot sales in 2014. Colorado's rocky soil isn't ideal for growing pot in covert forest grows, nor has the Centennial State cultivated a half-century-old underground cannabis culture like California has.
At any rate, Colorado’s Gray and Black Market fund, established in 2017, will still receive $950,000 per year after this latest budget cut. Colorado Springs received the largest grants from this marijuana crime-fighting fund — at $3.1 million in total. The second biggest recipient was Denver, which trailed far behind with $1.7 million in funds.
None of this is to say that Colorado has completely eradicated its unlicensed industry. The Department of Local Affairs says that, from 2020 to 2021, 19,000 pounds of unlicensed weed were seized and 331 illicit production sites were shut down by law enforcement.