CHICAGO (WGN) — State by state, America is moving toward legalizing marijuana, in part as an effort to decrease illegal drug sales and bring the cash from the street corner to the state cash register.
More than a dozen states have legalized the use of medical marijuana to date, while nearly the same number have legalized it for recreational use.
But illegal pot sales are still taking place, in part because street prices are considerably cheaper, sometimes costing half as much as tax-laden cannabis sold in legal dispensaries.
Some officials also blame mixed messaging between police departments who make arrests for marijuana-related crimes and prosecutors who don’t see them as a priority.
With more than 80 recreational and medical marijuana dispensaries licensed and operating in Illinois, not to mention another 75 facilities in the pipeline, you might think drug dealers have moved on from marijuana. But police in the Chicago area say the black market for weed is red-hot.
“When [dispensaries] opened-up last year, we saw lines out the door,” said Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain. “But that quickly faded when [customers] compare prices and convenience. They’re going to stick with the guy they know.”
And that’s leading to dealers carrying more cash as well as weapons to protect themselves and their score.
“When people are selling drugs in neighborhoods, we’re afraid that there’s going to be robberies associated with it,” said Lansing, Ill. police Lieutenant Al Phillips.
Police have busted into Lorynda Welton’s home in the middle of the night three separate times in recent years. They were looking for her son, who was suspected of selling marijuana out of her home in Lansing, south of Chicago.
“I could very well be shot,” Ms. Welton said outside her home, which still has a broken door frame and a lock damaged during the most recent raid.
The question isn’t whether police have a right to raid Welton’s home. They had a warrant.
Rather, some police officials say individuals, like her son, who are arrested for marijuana-related crimes see charges that are too lenient if they are charged at all.
Welton’s son never received a sentence stiffer than probation for previous marijuana-related charges until he was recently arrested during a traffic stop and hit with a felony drug charge.
“There’s got to be some consequences and people have to go to jail, unfortunately, to make this stop,” Lt. Phillips said.