Underground dealers also are not burdened by complex regulations and licenses.
“Those barriers to entry already create the potential for the black market, and then you add these taxes on top of it, and it makes it impossible to get rid of,” said Denver attorney Robert Corry, who helped write the pot legalization measure but opposed the taxes.
Corry, who has long represented marijuana dealers facing criminal charges, said his clientele has hardly diminished.
Comte’s unit recently searched a warehouse where two men from Texas were growing “so much more than they could ever need,” he said. Detectives charged them with possession of pot with intent to distribute.
If some Colorado drug dealers have lost business to legal retailers, some also have made up for it by transporting weed to other states.
A Lakewood man was arrested in March after postal inspectors intercepted a package he was mailing containing a pound of pot. Drug task force officers who later searched his home found scores of gallon-sized bags of marijuana and 76 plants.
Marijuana cases can be hard to prosecute and are not cost-effective, so police often prefer to focus attention on drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, Comte said.
One result, he said, is the feeling among illegal dealers that because retail sales are legal, authorities are looking the other way.
Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who is helping Washington set up its legal marijuana industry, said the black market’s survival has less to do with taxes than with a shortage of legal stores.
Colorado has more than 160 state-licensed stores, but they remain concentrated in the Denver area. Many towns don’t have any.
“When there are more stores and more products in the stores and prices settle down, then we’ll see,” Kleiman said. “I would be very surprised if the illicit market can compete at all.”
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