Despite the legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis in a number of states, police are still making massive marijuana busts across the country. In December 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) netted nearly $20 million in drugs, cash, money orders, and weapons during a raid on an illegal pot processing facility in downtown Los Angeles.
LAPD Seized an Estimated $19,660,00 Worth of Cannabis Products
During the December 20, 2018, raid, LAPD officers seized numerous large bags of cannabis flower, multiple jars of cannabis oils — also known as “honey oil” — along with cannabis concentrates and lab equipment used to transform marijuana plants into products that can be smoked or ingested. According to LAPD Lt. Andrew Mathes, “The estimate of the narcotics seized was $19,664,000″ — a staggering amount given the apparent absence of opioids and other high-value drugs.
Police also found close to $150,000 in cash and pre-made money orders along with three handguns and an assault rifle at the illegal marijuana processing plant in LA’s downtown Flower District. The bust was planned after neighbors reported unusual traffic in the area.
While multimillion-dollar drug busts are becoming relatively common these days with the increased demand for illegal opioids, most high-value drug seizures tend to involve drugs like fentanyl, heroin, and cocaine. The fact that the LAPD drug bust yielded close to $20 million in cannabis products is unusual, and it also brings up a number of questions about the impact of marijuana legalization on the illegal drug trade.
Legal Marijuana Doesn’t Mean Open Season for Dealers, Growers, and Processors
The news of the massive marijuana drug bust in LA left some people wondering why police in California are still actively pursuing pot producers, processors and dealers given the fact that recreational marijuana was legalized in The Golden State on January 1, 2018 — nearly 12 months before the big LA raid.
Contrary to what some people might think, marijuana and cannabis products are still tightly regulated in California. Current state laws limit the personal cultivation of cannabis plants to six per household, and all commercial growers must undergo a rigorous and costly state licensing process. Products that are approved for sale through a state-licensed retailer have been carefully screened for quality and potency, and the state collects a hefty excise tax on everything from single marijuana joints to cannabis-infused creams, teas and tinctures.
“Our goal is that anything that is being consumed has been regulated and an approved product,” said Lt. Mathes in explaining to reporters the impact the big LAPD bust would have on both criminals and marijuana users.
The Bigger Picture: Does Marijuana Legalization Impact the Illegal Drug Trade?
This massive marijuana bust comes as a bit of a surprise to some marijuana legalization advocates who predicted that the illegal drug trade in California would all but disappear once recreational cannabis was decriminalized.
In fact, violent crimes linked to the drug trade have reportedly surged in some areas of California since marijuana legalization — a trend that’s largely attributed to an influx of out-of-state criminals looking to rob cannabis stores to supply drug users in other states where pot isn’t legal.
In Sonoma County, Sergeant Spencer Crum states that “bodies have piled up” because of recreational legalization. The Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar believes that the problems seem to stem from the fact that in some areas, “marijuana is so valuable men are willing to kill for it.”
Colorado has seen organized crime cases triple during the first five years of legalized pot in the state. According to a report on the impact of marijuana legalization released by the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice, the number of marijuana plants found growing illegally on public land rose 73 percent — a statistic that police link to illegal pot production.
On the other hand, marijuana-related arrests fell by half during the same timeframe, while youth drug use remained stable and high school graduation rates rose throughout the state.