Understanding the size of this illegal industry is complicated. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency has seen the number of illegal marijauna plants they seize each year steadily climb since 2014. But that’s not including the countless investigations led by local law enforcement, which often cross county lines and involve multiple agencies, making data analysis difficult.
“I’ve only been doing this for 25 years and I have never seen the black market as robust and as complicated and as expertly cultivated as this one right now,” says 18th District Attorney, George Brauchler.
The cannabis flowers and concentrates from these illegal grows are typically transported to states like Florida and Texas, where Brauchler said Coloradan weed has its own brand recognition. It also sells for three to four times the local price, which is an added incentive considering illegal growers already avoid paying costly state regulations, like product testing, licensing and a 15% excise tax.
Even if marijuana became legal on a federal level, it’s likely that a black market would persist. For now, Colorado’s regulated marijuana market continues to grow, It brought in $1.5 billion in sales in 2018. Had it not been for growers and sellers on the black market, it might have been even more.