The Utah Highway Patrol has been on a roll in recent months. Troopers keep pulling over cars and discovering the occupants are using said vehicles to transport marijuana through the state. One of the more recent busts involved an Oregon woman found transporting more than 200 pounds of pot along with other drugs.
Her story is not unique. Utah newspapers have frequently reported similar stories since early 2021. The question is why people keep doing it. The answer is simple: there is money in it. The cannabis black market has not been dented by legalization efforts among the states. Even with thirty-six states now recognizing cannabis as legal in some form, the black market thrives.
Where was she going?
News reports do not say where the Oregon woman was headed with her drugs. She was traveling from Midland, OR, suggesting that her cannabis was grown in that state. But was she taking the drugs to the other side of the country? Was her final destination somewhere in Utah? We don’t know at this point.
If the drugs were destined for Utah, knowing the intended recipient would certainly be interesting. Illicit drugs, like cocaine, remain illegal in the Beehive State. Cannabis has been approved as a medical product. Nonetheless, all medical cannabis sold in the state must be grown in the state.
Medical cannabis patients must also purchase their medicines from a licensed pharmacy, like Park City’s Deseret Wellness. Because Deseret Wellness cannot purchase cannabis plant material from anyone other than a licensed grower or processor, it is highly unlikely the Oregon woman was planning to sell to a pharmacy operator.
Who are the buyers?
Wondering the woman’s destination leads to the question of her buyers. In all likelihood, the marijuana and other drugs would have ultimately ended up with local distributors. From there, individual consumers would have purchased small amounts. But who are those buyers?
The chances are pretty good that most of them would have been recreational users. Although one can make the case that medical users might still purchase on the black market because it is cheaper, it’s also reasonable to assume that the total number of recreational users in the U.S. dwarfs the number of medical users. That being the case, most of the illegal product is probably being purchased by recreational users.
Why Take a chance?
Getting back to the woman arrested in Utah, reasonable people might ask why she took the chance. Explaining that there is money involved doesn’t really do it justice. It is not just money, it’s a lot of money. Estimates from 2021 suggest that the global cannabis market will be worth more than $70 billion annually, by 2028. Here in the U.S., the market is estimated to be somewhere around $24 billion.
Whenever you are talking about that much money, you’re also talking about plenty of people willing to put in the work. Everyone from street dealers to mules and regional distributors stand to make good money. And because the chances of getting caught are fairly low, a lot of people find the money easy.
Why is the black market so big?
One final question to deal with is that of why the black market is so big. Multiple analysts have looked at the question and arrived at the same conclusion: taxes and regulation. Both add to the cost of doing business for legal operators. That makes their retail prices higher.
Black market operators don’t pay attention to licensing and regulation. They do not pay fees or taxes. As such, their product is cheaper. That is why carrying illegal pot through Utah is worth the risk to some people.