Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Dope economics

Al Diamon

Uneasy about your job security? Nothing will make that worry be gone quicker than a toke of worry-b-gone. Because the most secure profession in Maine is marijuana dealer.

Of course, selling pot for recreational purposes is still illegal in this state. But stoners who retail weed for a living aren’t concerned. The chances of getting busted are minimal. The cops have more important things to do than chase small-scale transactions in the golf club parking lot with corporate executives who like a little sticky-icky after their game.

But won’t the impending arrival of legal “adult-use” marijuana (a euphemism that makes rolling a joint sound like playing with a sex toy) have a negative impact on the black market? If you think so, you must be high. Under the regulations being tweaked by Augusta bureaucrats, pot shops will be subject to so much red tape that the price they’ll be forced to charge will be significantly greater than under the current shadowy system.

Need proof? Consider the medical marijuana marketplace. For the first four years after legalization, pot sales from licensed dispensaries to people with qualifying health issues surged, growing from $7.8 million in 2013 to $26.6 million in 2016. Since then, even though the Legislature expanded the list of qualifying conditions for which the kind herb was considered beneficial, there’s been steady erosion.

That’s because the clinics have to charge higher prices than licensed caregivers, who aren’t as stringently regulated. Caregivers (another idiotic euphemism) are supposed to be limited to growing ganja for a maximum of five patients, but have found it easy to increase their customer base. First, they rotate the five people they’re entitled to serve, so there’s always an open slot. Second, many of them moonlight as illegal dealers.

Being a caregiver is the ideal cover for illicit sales, providing plausible explanations for all the little clues that previously would have given a pot producer away, such as excessive electric bills, large purchases of assorted plant-growing products or a certain distinctive odor. With those old-fashioned red flags neutralized, it’s a simple matter for caregivers to conceal the extra plants they grow for their lucrative side business.

How lucrative?

In Massachusetts, where retail pot is subject to crushing state oversight (not to mention rampant corruption), the Boston Globe reported, “About 75 percent of the state’s cannabis sales this year will take place under the table, according to industry analysts.”

If that’s correct, the dollar value of the Bay State’s black market is staggering. The Globe said legal pot shops have sold $104 million worth of product between November and the beginning of May, which means illegal sales amounted to over $300 million in the same period.

Maine’s market, both black and white, is obviously much smaller. But there’s ample evidence to indicate that illegal sales here amount to $100 million a year or more. And it’s all tax-free.

Legal retail sales, with their higher prices, will take a small portion of that mind-altering brownie, but it’ll mostly be just crumbs. Only the timidest of cannabis customers will shop regularly at legitimate outlets. The rebellious majority will continue to patronize their friendly neighborhood weed dealer, until such time as lawmakers learn to accept reality.

Which, of course, will be never.

Can’t ask for better job security than that.

Correction: Last week, I stated that Heather Johnson, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, was a board member of the nonprofit Western Mountains & Rivers Corp. Johnson resigned from that board in late January, when she was sworn in as a member of Gov. Janet Mills’ cabinet.

Don’t Bogart your opinion, my friend, Email it to me at

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 Responses »

  1. Did people really think that the government was going to bring about a coherent legalization of marijuana? I'm pretty sure most elected officials are high most of the time. That would explain why they generally run on platforms that promise free handouts (with no idea how to pay for them) to everyone as a solution to every problem rather than trying to solve complex issues using their brains.


  2. @Shamus

    The really brain-dead ones are those that think that cutting taxes is the answer to everything. It's easy to cut taxes and punt the cost to the future. It's much harder, apparently, to tell people if they want decent infrastructure, decent schools, a decent environment, safety, security - you name it - they're going to have to pay for it. And let's not mention all that corporate welfare which dwarfs the cost of welfare to individuals and families.

  3. Norm,it's not corporate welfare,they are called "subsidies". Sounds much nicer.

  4. @ Norm Penn

    True, tax cuts without budget cuts and corporate welfare doesn't work so well in the long run. However adding trillions of dollars (Medicare-for-All itself is about 30 trillion) to the deficit at once in the name of making something 'free' without any clear cut idea of how to pay for it other than taxing the rich 70%, which is only going to work for so long before they find a way to pass the debt on to the working class, doesn't sound too good for the future, either. You get it for 'free', but you're likely going to end up not making much money because of it and on top of that you get to enjoy the expansion of the incompetence of government bureaucracy. It's a good way to garner votes because it looks good on paper, yes, but it's hardly beneficial for the country's infrastructure.

    I don't mind paying for the things you list above, but there are less drastic ways to go about doing it than going on a spending spree of untold proportions.


  5. It’s really the”black market” “underground” snowblower sales that remain a blow to the economy, stats show that up to 75% of all snowblower sales are done in this way to avoid taxes. Many legal snowblower dealers happen to moonlight as tax dodging dealers as well.

    Ya, that does sound stupid when you exchange snowblower for a plant that has been demonized for 100 plus years....But is there really much difference?