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Marijuana Black Market Big Problem for MA

Massachusetts voters legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2016. But over two years later, most pot sales in the state still take place on the black market.


The main reason for that is the slow rollout of state-licensed pot shops, with only eight stores currently open.


“They’ve made it so inconvenient” to buy legally, said Jennifer Dudley, a 31-year-old cannabis consumer who lives in Reading.


She said the few available shops were “in the middle of nowhere,” and “the line was so crazy that I didn’t even bother going in -- I kept the black market alive instead.”


State regulators say they’re issuing licenses as quickly as they can. But the state’s cannabis law requires applicants to negotiate contracts with local governments before obtaining a license. And that process, often involving consultation with lawyers, architects and others, takes time and money.


At the rollout’s present rate, it could take three years or more before there are enough licensed pot shops in the state to reduce illegal sales appreciably. However, the state could set up a fund to assist applicants or let small operators share their licensing costs.


Massachusetts isn’t the only legal-pot state with a black market problem. Over 82 percent of pot sales last year in California were also illegal, according to cannabis market research firm BDS Analytics. To deal with the issue there, state lawmakers are considering reducing the tax on marijuana sales from 15 percent to 11 percent and suspending the $148 per pound fee on pot growers for three years.


But there is reason for optimism about the problem. BDS projects that pot sales in Massachusetts will be nearly 14 percent lower this year than they were last year, about 76 percent versus nearly 90 percent. And illegal sales made up about 33 percent and 39 percent of the total last year, respectively, in Colorado and Washington, the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana sales, in 2014. (BOSTON GLOBE, KCRA)