Earlier this month, more than 20,000 marijuana plants with an estimated value of more than $50 million were seized in a drug raid in the City of Industry. Eight arrests were made in the process of taking down this massive underground grow operation that was conducted in a warehouse.
Just a few miles away and days earlier, another pot farm was raided. About $2 million worth of marijuana plants were seized, and five people were arrested.
These raids are indicative of an ongoing and increasing trend across Southern California, despite the fact that Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana use was passed last November. While many believed that legalizing the drug would eradicate illegal growers and cut off illegal trafficking of the drug at the knees, it does not appear to be having that effect. Rather, illegal grow operations seem to be increasing production and show no sign of shutting their doors voluntarily.
Regulation, taxes, and higher prices come with legalization. While there will be a market for the high-end, boutique marijuana that is sold in dispensaries, showcased in glass jars and footnoted with a fancy description of its effects, not everyone can afford the high prices that go with it.
Additionally, not everyone will want to follow the new guidelines associated with use and possession of the drug. Some apparently want to continue “business as usual,” buying large amounts of low-cost marijuana, and drug dealers who want to keep their businesses going are more than willing to do house calls, undercut legal prices, and sell in bulk to keep their customers calling.
While marijuana has been coming in from Mexico for years, more and more traffickers are moving their grow operations into the country in order to avoid problems getting across the border. Law enforcement is on standby, taking anonymous tips about illegal activity, and acting on them to execute raids like the ones described above.
Legal or Illegal?
The problem with the legalization of marijuana in California is that many do not have a clear understanding of what it actually means in practice. That is, like alcohol, there will be limits on sales, use, and possession. It is not true that any and all use of marijuana will be legal when the drug becomes available for recreational use in California. Those who use and abuse the drug can still lose their jobs, their licenses, and custody of their children. There is no legal recourse, especially since the drug is still illegal federally. In other states, courts have routinely supported the rights of employers to have a drug-free workplace, communities to have safe streets unpopulated by drivers who are intoxicated, and children to live with adult caregivers who are not under the influence.
The Path Forward: Treatment
Unfortunately, despite the fact that California is far from the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use, we still do not have a template in place that can assist us in effectively creating the systems needed to build an entire industry from scratch, or to regulate that industry or legally monitor use of the drug among residents.
For families who have loved ones who are living with an active addiction, there is a concern that recreational legalization will make it that much more difficult to help their family member recognize the need for treatment. Too often, those who are in denial about their drug use cite a substance’s legal status as a justification for their use despite the negative consequences. It can be difficult to help someone to understand that legal does not equal safe, and that if they are unable to monitor their use of these substances despite those consequences, it is a red flag that immediate treatment is needed.
If your loved one is already struggling with a drug and/or alcohol abuse problem and you are concerned that recreational marijuana legalization will only worsen their situation, now is the time to talk to them about connecting with treatment services. If they are not interested in having that discussion, there is still hope that they will accept your invitation to treatment in the future.
Are you concerned about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in California? Have you already seen changes as a result of Prop 64’s passing? What do you expect to happen in Southern California in terms of marijuana raids, illegal sales, and illegal use in the coming months?