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Editorial: Let legal marijuana put the black market out of business

Santa Ana is apparently done playing marijuana whack-a-mole with illegally operating dispensaries, as its strong-arm policing has failed to dislodge the last few operators, while also causing some embarrassment to the city.

“Based on nuisance conditions, city council members have authorized the filing and prosecution of receivership actions against four owners of illegal marijuana dispensaries — including a shop subject to a controversial raid — as a first step toward permanently shutting them down,” the Register reported.

The number of illegal operators in Santa Ana is now down to 10 or so, after being as high as 120. But, “Despite previous enforcement actions, the operators of these marijuana dispensaries have refused to comply with the city’s regulations, and the property owners have refused to cooperate with the city,” according to the staff report.

The change in tactics is certainly preferable to the black eye left by police officers getting caught on video dismantling surveillance equipment, playing darts, making derogatory remarks about an amputee, and helping themselves to candy and snacks during a raid. But it’s also questionable how effective the new strategy will be, given basic economics.

Demand for marijuana is high, and access to legal options remain low. That isn’t really Santa Ana’s fault, although the city’s taxes on marijuana are high. The city has even made efforts to improve the business climate for legal operators.

But, the reality is, until other cities stop looking at marijuana with moralistic disdain or merely view it as a cash cow, illegal sellers are likely to continue filling the gaps created by above-market prices and limited access.

If Prohibition taught us anything, it’s that making something illegal doesn’t end demand for it. Similarly, the quasi-legal limbo that marijuana is in now won’t do much to modify people’s behaviors — especially when they’re already comfortable acquiring it illegally. Until marijuana sales are treated like the legally permissible business they are, legal sellers will remain incapable of running illegal dealers out of the market.

Let reputable marijuana business do what beer companies did to organized crime’s hold on the liquor market. Let them compete.


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