On the surface, it seems obvious to say that if you’re in a state that has legalized recreational cannabis and are enjoying it, you should only give your business to licensed shops. Although shopping at unlicensed black or “grey market” dispensaries is completely fine with some people (it’s much cheaper in many cases,) there are many users of cannabis who, like myself, would want to limit their business to legitimate dispensaries, for ethical and safety reasons, among others.
The problem is that currently, in cities like Los Angeles, the unlicensed shops blend in quite well with legitimate ones, and they are everywhere. They are significantly less expensive, because they don’t collect taxes or deal with regulatory fees like licensed stores. In addition, sites like Weedmaps allow illegal dispensaries to advertise alongside the legal places, and just by browsing the various menus, one can’t ascertain which stores are legit and which are not. In fact, for several months I purchased vape cartridges and edibles from shops that I didn’t know were unlicensed. It wasn’t until I noticed certain key things, such as the hours that places were open, as well as the availability of edibles labeled as having more THC than is legally allowed for a single product due to newer regulations, that I figured out that some of my go-to shops were most likely not licensed.
There are several reasons why it’s better to frequent legit shops. The products there will have been lab tested and include exact dosage information on the label, including stickers with the potency (% of cannabinoids such as THC and CBD,) as well as confirmation that the products have been checked for pesticides. The products bought at underground shops don’t have these lab test labels, so there is no way to know exactly what you’re getting. In addition, over the past several months, counterfeit vape cartridges have flooded markets, even in legal states. And who knows that could be in those. You’re also more likely to find bunk edibles on the black market.
There are also the inherent ethical reasons for not spending your money in underground shops. Cannabis may be cheaper there, but your money is not supporting legitimate business, and is instead going to people who are willing to skirt the law. As no taxes are collected in black market stores, there is no benefit to the communities in which they are located. In addition, illegal shops compete with legitimate stores and make it harder for the latter to operate successfully, by offering prices that are difficult to compete with and cutting through their profits. When you spend money at licensed places, at least you know that your dollars are supporting legalization and not undercutting it.
As mentioned earlier, there are signs that a dispensary may not be licensed. One obvious one, if you’re in California, is if they are selling edibles that are over 100mg. This is because of newer regulations that limit potency of cannabis products. Another big clue is if the store is open late. Cities impose restrictions on business hours, and most legit dispensaries in Los Angeles or surrounding areas close by 10 p.m., if not 8 p.m. If a place is open until midnight or later, chances are it’s unlicensed. Also, you won’t find the testing labels/stickers on products found in underground shops. You can also try searching for licensed shops in directories such as this one.
Marijuana legalization in California has been a wonderful thing. I am thoroughly enjoying the ability to run down to the nearest dispensary and pick up my favorite cannabis strains. There are stretches of the 10 freeway near downtown Los Angeles where it literally smells like weed. There’s no question that buying from legal shops is more expensive than black market locations. However, by giving your business to legit dispensaries, you’re helping the industry and its supporting communities to grow. Hopefully in the coming years, we will see prices of legal cannabis come down, so that there won’t be as much of a temptation to skirt the law and buy from black market shops. In the meantime, spend the extra money if you can. On top of the other reasons already mentioned, I think the peace of mind of knowing what you’re getting is well worth the higher price.
Photo by: Pixabay.com/DavidCardinez