The California Department of Cannabis Control is disputing a statistic used by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department on NBC Nightly News.
The Sept. 7 edition of the NBC broadcast features a report on human trafficking in the cannabis industry. Before the report came the first surprise for cannabis industry pros, when Lester Holt even prefaced the it with the claim of a new trend from law enforcement.
That trend? Victims of human trafficking were growing cannabis that ended up on the shelves of permitted California dispensaries. Cut to NBC’s crew on a ride along with the sheriff in the Mojave Desert on a raid. The property features a spread of greenhouses and a voiceover with claims of illegal marijuana being grown with illegal methods per the sheriff.
Next, the package cuts to the officer in charge of the raid, Lieutenant Marc Bracco. The sheriff takes multiple people into custody with Bracco noting those cultivators themselves might be the victims of human trafficking. The Mandarin-speaking cultivation team tells the crew they all left restaurant jobs after finding the gig on a website, suggesting at least some degree of autonomy and freedom. But then they note they haven’t been paid yet, this can be typical in underground operations with everyone getting cashed out after the harvest.
After a tour of the housing conditions, the camera cuts back to Bracco noting, “This product will end up in a dispensary.”
He’s asked if he means a legal dispensary, to which he replies, both legal and illegal. That’s followed up with him being asked to clarify if consumers can walk into a dispensary and find products grown by victims of human trafficking.
“Yes,” Bracco replies. “If you look at the number of legalized grow locations for the state, there’s not enough of those to funnel product for the legal dispensaries. So over 70% to 80% of marijuana at your dispensary is illegally cultivated.”
We asked the Department of Cannabis Control for its take on the comments from Bracco.
“No information from our licensing, compliance, or enforcement divisions corroborate these claims. Unsubstantiated claims destroy public confidence in the legal cannabis market and do a disservice to the thousands of businesses working to follow the law. Our enforcement division works closely with federal, state and local partners, including the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office, and will continue to provide coordinated resources and support to aid in their efforts to combat the illegal market,” the state told L.A. Weekly.
Most experts in the industry agree the exact opposite of what the sheriff claimed is happening. The marketplace is so flooded with legal product, it has crashed the market price of marijuana. Many farmers chose not to plant this year because it would not be worth their time. This flood of products on the recreational market is the main point of financial strife for the legacy communities that backboned California’s market for decades. It is undeniable that there hasn’t been a true drought since 2019 and there is a ton of pot left over annually.
While interstate and international commerce eventually will change the game, right now California definitely has too much of its own legal weed.
Is illegally grown cannabis appearing on dispensary shelves a big issue? Highly doubtful. Legal marijuana is much more likely to get backdoored to marketplaces like Illinois and New York, where it’s worth three times its value in California. Furthermore, the idea that it would be grown using illegal methods in a desert greenhouse, and then pass the checks and balances of California’s recreational market is baffling.
This isn’t to dismiss the idea that there are people in bad situations working in cannabis cultivation in California, but that product making it to the legal market is unlikely when it’s worth more with fewer hurdles in many places right now.
We asked the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for some background on Bracco’s claim but are yet to hear back as of press time.
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