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Why the black market for weed is still thriving in California

For many in California, legalization isn't the breakthrough they hoped it would be.

Small-scale, veteran growers like Jason Fleming could be shut down by bureaucracy before they sell a single nug on California’s new legal weed market.

Recreational marijuana became legal in California in January, but the state already had a 22-year-old medical marijuana industry that outlined a legal route for patients to purchase pot for licensed dispensaries. But how the weed got from growers to those dispensaries was shrouded in what can only be described as a very grey area.


The Medical and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act changed all that — now growers must be licensed and have their wares tested in a lab, which means a much higher overheard and a licensing backlog. To stay in business, some growers have turned to the state's resurging black market, fueled by consumers who can't bear the brunt of new taxes as high as 45 percent.

"I get a lot of black market clients that I never had before, asking me to do stuff on the black market now," Fleming told VICE News. "Do I want to do it? No, it's not what I want to do. I want to stick to the legal market."

So far, Fleming has complied with licensing law by purchasing a growhouse for $25,000 a month and filled out all of his paperwork. But Sonoma County has kept him waiting for local approval for six months. Without that, he can't start growing — or making any money.

As chief of CalCannabis, the state agency that licenses medical and recreational cultivators, Richard Parott is familiar with stories like Fleming's. He told VICE News that he'd heard about backlogs of applications with local authorities. But there's not much he can do.

"The state doesn't have any purview over the locals," he said.

This segment originally aired April 18, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.