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Cannabis Markets: Black, Grey and White

One phrase that I heard in the height of my primary school education has stuck with me ever since: “black market”. From everything I had heard on NPR and the BBC in my father’s Ford, the black market was a magical place where anything could be bought or sold. People, pets, drugs, weapons, stolen bicycles, illegally copied movies and music; to me, the black market was a highly organized criminal WalMart. I imagined hardened thugs with neck tattoos asking “paper or plastic” after a high ranking crime syndicate scanned a coupon for “buy three Kalashnikovs, get one free.” How wrong I was. The black market isn’t a specific place; it’s an idea. There is no central warehouse to phone if product is out of stock, no backorder process, and no lay away. Only debt, credit, and reputation. Any of those last three can get you killed.

The black market is a realm of sales that never get recorded, filed or taxed. There is no customer appreciation month, or raffle entry on your receipt – the black market is a place where illegality is distributed to the highest bidder. The black market is what got me into cannabis. My friend’s father Dan was a regular cannabis smoker, and my friend Alex enjoyed taking an unnoticeable amount from his stash. Dan bought cannabis by the kilo, and he had a secret compartment in his basement full of these shrink-wrapped bricks of low quality cannabis. The fact that they (the bricks) had travelled all the way to West Michigan from some hidden grown in central or South America absolutely fascinated me. How did they get here? A few days after his dad would open a new kilo brick is when Alex would lighten his father’s load – always making sure to never be the first to open the package. Over the next few months Alex would become the most popular dealer at my middle school, and be the first person I knew to receive legal sanctions for distributing cannabis. This is black market dealing in its purest form. This entailed large amounts of illegally acquired and illegally grown cannabis being stolen from and sold at a school. All aspects of this were illegal.

The grey market is a term that I wasn’t exposed to until my college years. Grey market marijuana sales are when two persons have done something illegal, but only one can really be prosecuted for violating the law. An example of this would be my friend Jason. Jason has a medical marijuana card in the state of Colorado to help him address his chronic lower back pain. Jason is twenty and I am twenty-two. This difference in age is critical. Since I am over twenty-one years of age, this means I can possess an ounce of marijuana for “recreational use”. I can purchase this ounce of marijuana from a regulated store with a 25% sales tax. Jason cannot purchase an ounce of recreational use marijuana from the store because he is not 21. Jason, can on the other hand purchase two ounces of medical marijuana for himself with a sales tax somewhere around 11%. This is where things get interesting. Legally, the two of us can be in a car, travelling down the Colorado highway with three ounces of marijuana, as long as he stakes claim to 2/3 of them when the police are asking questions. Now, if Jason and I were to hypothetically make a sale behind a closed door in his home, he could, hypothetically profit off of the different taxes between his medicine and my recreational fun. This is a grey market transaction. Jason buys more medicine than he needs, sells it at a 4% markup with a 15% tax, and the 21+ buyer gets a 10% markdown in the cost of their drugs. As long as Jason is careful to never sell outside of his home, more than an ounce, or to anyone under the age of 21, he is essentially legally untouchable.

Lastly is the “white market”. This is what I am trying to be a part of. This is what the news teams were zeroing in on last January in Colorado. 21+ Sales. This is when one licensed and registered consenting adult sells another consenting adult who can prove their age drugs.

Regardless of how you were exposed to cannabis you should be familiar with these three types of market. Black, grey, white, they all do the same thing – they sell drugs to people. Which market you choose to support is up to you. I’ve been a part of all three, and I have to say the legal white market sales are the most enjoyable (as a buyer and seller). There’s no texting or missed calls, no firearm on the kitchen table, no haggling or double checking the weight – those discrepancies are far too petty for the legal market. The white market makes buying cannabis as pleasant as shoe shopping. The notion of “mmmmm, I’m not in love with this one, let me try another” is so foreign to drug dealing – but not in this newly emerging white market. The young man writing this is doing so from the perspective of someone who once purchased his medicine illegally. Let me tell you, there’s a big difference in customer satisfaction between a salesperson with a 1911 and a garbage bag of pre-weighed ounces sitting out on the kitchen counter of a decrepit Detroit home, and a Denver bud-tender asking if you remembered to bring your own child-resistant container and to “have a lovely day”. Examine the marketplace where you buy your cannabis – it may just surprise you.

by Maxwell Bradford

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.


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