Despite legalization, U.S. and Canadian illegal cannabis markets exist

The United States and Canada both have legalized cannabis, yet the black market for the drug continues to thrive. Find out more.

Despite legalization, U.S. and Canadian illegal cannabis markets exist
Even though cannabis is legal in the U.S. and Canada, there are still black markets for it. Image by Nicky ❤️🌿🐞🌿❤️ from Pixabay

In the United States, as in Canada, licenses to establish a legal marijuana business are expensive, and large corporations are privileged, which is why illegal markets continue to exist, according to specialists Aarón Diaz Mendiburo and Robert Chlala.

Participating in the discussion "The cannabis industry and its workforce in the United States and Canada", organized by the Center for Research on North America (CISAN) of the UNAM, they highlighted that there are even companies that operate in both areas: both in the formal and the illegal.

Global Cannabis Market in the Global Cannabis Report

Díaz Mendiburo, a CISAN academic, explained that according to the Global Cannabis Report, in 2019, it was estimated that approximately 263 million people in the world were consumers of this plant. Given this, the "green gold" industry needed to increase the number of employees. By 2020, 238 thousand jobs were projected, but only in places where its consumption had been legalized.

In Canada, for example, in 2018 it was estimated that there were about 10 thousand workers in this sector, but that number would increase to 150 thousand in the following years. A significant number of them are temporary, coming from nations such as Mexico, Guatemala, and/or Jamaica, and face precarious wage and housing conditions. It is a nascent industry, with no security for its workers.

Another considerable percentage arrives as tourists and work in the fields, thinking that since there are states in that nation that have legalized the recreational and/or medicinal use of the plant, the farmers have a license to grow it, but this is not the case. "Much of it is still illegal, in legal terms," he said.

Meanwhile, Robert Chlala, professor at the Department of Urban Sociology at California State University at Long Beach, said that in the United States it is estimated that there are close to half a million employees in this sector. In Los Angeles, there could be approximately 200 thousand, but it is not known with certainty since not all of them declare to work in this field because there is still an illegal market. In 2015, it was estimated that there were about 2,000 dispensaries in that city, with five or six people working in each one.

In affluent neighborhoods, these businesses are not well regarded and tend to close early.

The distance meeting was moderated by the director of the Center for Mexican Studies UNAM-Los Angeles, and CISAN researcher, Silvia Núñez García, who called for a rapprochement between Mexico, the United States, and Canada to address the problems surrounding the cannabis labor market, as well as to work to eradicate the stigmatization of those who consume it.

Díaz Mendiburo, a doctor of anthropology who studies the subject of corporate social responsibility in the marijuana industry, added: "There is a lack of transparency in this sector of the economy, as workers must sign agreements not to talk about their work, so the investigations are usually carried out with people who were fired."

The documentary filmmaker also shared that he studies how the arts manage to "deconstruct" the stigma that cannabis generates violence and the criminalization of groups such as Afro-descendants, Latinos, and Asians.

Robert Chlala, also a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that the line between formal and informal in this market is thin and blurred. In addition, the police carry out "raids" to close stores that then spring up elsewhere, so he estimated that companies are working in "both worlds": legal and illegal.

After the last mid-term elections in the United States, 21 states approved the recreational use of this plant, and 38 approved its medicinal use. New York has the most progressive legislation, while in Florida, five large companies control the licenses.