Black Market Marijuana Thrives In New Jersey

By Kelly Burch 03/06/19

A New Jersey police chief says that with legal marijuana expected to be taxed at $42 an ounce, people will keep buying their weed illegally. 

person buying marijuana on the black market in New Jersey

Lawmakers in New Jersey are moving ahead with legalizing recreational marijuana, but when legal businesses come to the state they will have to compete with a thriving black market where customers can buy high quality, low cost cannabis products. 

When Mike Davis, a reporter for Asbury Park Press, attended a pop-up marijuana event near Trenton, New Jersey, he found an array of marijuana products from bud to edibles, for sale. Davis' experience at the event illustrated how sophisticated illegal sellers have become. 

The products at the pop-up event were professionally packaged and the merchants accepted mobile payment—essentially everything you’d expect to see in a legitimate marijuana retailer. 

The buyers and sellers at the underground event were confident in the illegal market for cannabis. 

David, who was DJing the event and selling marijuana, said he’s not concerned about legalization. “People want legalization until they get here and see what the black market has to offer. They see that what we have is cheaper than legalized weed, that it’s much better," he said. "You can change their mind."

One woman selling marijuana brownies for $10 each said that she would love to make a living selling marijuana products, but she was wary of the cost of starting a legal business. 

"I would love to quit my 9-to-5 and open a cannabis bakery full-time. That’s my dream,” she said. "But they make it so hard. You have to take out loans, and have certain qualifications to even think about it. Why are we adding greed to the equation? That’s when it becomes evil.” 

Even if the state legalizes marijuana and legal businesses enter the space, she is confident that she will continue to have customers. “The state has no idea what they're doing. They have no idea what the people want. The underground will always stay in business, whether they legalize, decriminalize or not.”

John Zebrowski, police chief in Sayreville, New Jersey, agreed—although for different reason. He said that with legal marijuana expected to be taxed at $42 an ounce, people will keep buying their weed illegally. 

"Clearly, there's always going to be a demand—and some of that demand is going to be satisfied by the black market, where there's a reduced price and higher potency," said Zebrowski. "And it'll be very hard for the state to compete with the black market when, obviously, part of what they're trying to do here is create an income base through taxes.”

Although he hadn’t heard of pop-up events like the one the reporter attended, he said that the black market is becoming more accessible. 

“The black market has adapted and become more customer-friendly. They’ll always have different ways to survive.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.