There are two ways that medical marijuana can be implemented. The first is the light touch route where patients find it relatively easy to access marijuana, medical marijuana is easy to grow and dispensaries are many. The second is where all the above is heavily restricted, meaning that it is very difficult to obtain medical marijuana and there are limited and costly permits to growing and distributing marijuana. States like California and Colorado have gone down the first route, and Colorado is a shining example as to how to go about marijuana integration into society. And states like Pennsylvania and New York have gone down the second, with inevitable results. Pennsylvania has an incredibly strict program with less than 30 dispensaries and less than 50 growing permits, all locked into the hands of the wealthy who can charge what they want for their marijuana.
Black Market the Only Option
It is simple economics that when few entities have a monopoly on the marijuana industry they can charge what they want at the expense of the individual. New York is the latest example of this simple economic principal, where it seems that some administrative officials will never learn, despite history being littered with these examples. Because there are few dispensaries in New York and they are charging such incredibly high prices, people are opting for the old-fashioned route and turning to the black market where they can get an appropriate price. In a choice between two criminal entities people are opting to support the local and small-time criminals at the expense of the organized and well financed criminals. Not because of any underlying ethical principals but simply because it is cheaper to do so.
New York State passed medical marijuana legislation in 2014, with patients able to purchase their medicine at licensed dispensaries since 2016. This year, the program expanded further, with broadly defined ailments like chronic pain added to the state’s list of qualifying conditions. But even with the expanded qualifiers opening the system to millions of New Yorkers, high priced product and a lack of appropriate marijuana for sale has resulted in state-approved patients seeking their weed from black market dealers instead of dispensaries.
The sad reality is that everything related to marijuana in New York is incredibly overpriced, from vaporizers to CBD oils. The same principals apply, because there are only five producers and eight dispensaries they are charging extortionate prices for their items. It makes a lot of sense for people to turn towards the black market, which is now thriving. Most people go to a dispensary once or twice and end up never coming back when they see the prices. There is also a shortage of doctors in the area and people are having trouble finding them to get recommendations for medical marijuana cards.
A Dangerous Option
The New York Health Department has urged people not to go down the black-market route as the products are dangerous and untested. And the department is correct. Much black-market marijuana is heavily contaminated with toxins of all kinds due to a lack of regulation and certification. But there really is no other option as they can get products for a half the price (sometimes even less) on the black market. And this is inclusive of the extra costs that black market dealers and cultivators have to include to cover the risk they are taking by growing illegal produce. Which actually conveys how much the official and standard marijuana route is ripping people off with what they are charging. In many ways, the situation is beyond bizarre. If recreational marijuana were simply legal then this would not be a problem, the dispensaries would charge what people would be willing to pay and the only ones who would suffer would be the wealthy monopolistic owners and the bureaucrats who like to regulate.
In the coming years the state has plans to double the number of marijuana producers. According to a department spokesperson:
“The New York State Department of Health is committed to growing the state’s medical marijuana program responsibly and is continually working to enhance the program for patients and practitioners…The addition of five new registered organizations will help to increase patient access, improve geographic distribution across the state, make medical marijuana products more affordable for patients through the introduction of new competition, and increase the variety of medical marijuana products available to patients.”
Black or White
There are currently 31,000 registered medical marijuana patients in the state of New York. These patients will have to wait while the department works out how to profit from the sale of licenses to dispensaries and producers. It is hard to figure out which market is “black” and which one is “white”, but for now ordinary citizens seem content to accept from street dealers rather than from the authorized medical dispensaries. It is a sad state of affairs where state approved citizens cannot obtain marijuana and trust local criminals more than the state.