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A lot of people assume that once a state or national government legalizes cannabis or another previously prohibited substance that criminal enforcement related to that particular substance is no longer necessary. However, many states with legalization laws on the books still see plenty of arrests and prosecutions for non-violent cannabis offenses after legalization.
The reason for ongoing arrests after legalization is complicated. Some of it has its roots in the pre-existing unregulated market, while some of it has its roots in issues with the legal market. There are also ingrained attitudes within the law enforcement community that don’t just disappear overnight when a state legalizes cannabis.
Many people have long-term relationships with the growers or sellers that they depend on for cannabis during prohibition. When legalization takes effect, they don’t want to simply sever ties with someone they have come to trust over possibly years or even decades. Instead, they will continue to purchase from the same person, effectively is supporting the unregulated market instead of the regulated one.
People may do this because of convenience, or they may do it because their state has major issues with rolling out legalization. Growers will stay with what they are good at, even if the legalization measure doesn’t allow for homegrows or they can’t secure a cultivation license because of a previous criminal record or lack of investment capital.
The problems with instituting a legal cannabis framework involve delays in opening retail shops, lack of supply, issues with licensing, municipalities banning all commercial cannabis activity, and excessive taxes making dispensaries unaffordable. All of these issues push people into the unregulated market long after legalization has taken effect.
The growers, sellers, and buyers in casual purchasing arrangements can still face charges, depending on the state and the exact circumstances. People can also get busted on technicalities under the legalization laws, such as having slightly too much cannabis in their possession or smoking on their sidewalk instead of the backyard.
Overall, while legalization has decreased the number of people going to jail unnecessarily for cannabis in many places, it has not fully ended cannabis arrests, nor will it likely do so anytime in the foreseeable future.
For previous Ladybud articles about cannabis arrests, click here.