Legal Marijuana In CO Hasn't Stopped Black Market

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UPDATED: Friday April 4, 2014 1:22 PM

A 25-year-old is shot dead trying to sell marijuana the old-fashioned, illegal way. Two men from Texas set up a warehouse to grow more than they would ever need. And three people buying pot in a grocery store parking lot are robbed at gunpoint.

While no one expected the state's first-in-the-nation recreational sales would eliminate the need for dangerous underground sales overnight, the violence has raised concerns among police, prosecutors and pot advocates that a black market for marijuana is alive and well in Colorado.

"It has done nothing more than enhance the opportunity for the black market," said Lt. Mark Comte of the Colorado Springs police vice and narcotics unit. "If you can get it tax-free on the corner, you're going to get it on the corner."

It's difficult to measure whether there has been an increase in pot-related crimes beyond anecdotal reports because no one at either the federal or state levels is keeping track of the numbers of killings, robberies and other crimes linked directly to marijuana.

Pot advocates say the state is in a transition period, and while pot-related crimes will continue, they will begin to decline as more stores open and prices of legal marijuana decline.

"It's just a transition period," activist Brian Vicente said. "Marijuana was illegal for the last 80 years in our state, and there are some remnants of that still around. Certainly, much like alcohol, over time these underground dealers will fade away."

Sales are due to begin in June in Washington, where authorities will be watching for similar cases.

"There's going to be a black market here," said Cmdr. Pat Slack of the Snohomish Regional Drug/Gang Task Force, which covers an area outside Seattle. "There will be drug rip-offs and drug debts that haven't been paid. All of that is going to stay."

Under Colorado's voter-approved law, it is legal to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Authorities are concerned that means illegal dealers and buyers believe they can avoid prosecution. These dealers and their customers also tend to be targets, if robbers know they are flush with cash.

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