From Legal to Illegal, Pot Mimics Prescription Drugs


The DEA calls it diversion. It’s the process of moving a substance out of the legal supply chain into the black market of drug abuse. It happens all over the US when a prescription is either forged or the medication is sold to someone other than the patient it was prescribed for. Now, police in California are dealing with the same thing in the medical marijuana community.

At issue is what happens to marijuana being grown legally under the program. Police suspect a great deal of it simply moves into the illegal pot trade, either in California itself or for export to other states. And the problem is made worse because marijuana doesn’t even require the same tracking that prescription drugs do. For example, the DEA can find out, through manufacturers and wholesalers, where the drugs went. At the pharmacy level, they can track prescriptions for addictive substances. None of this is true for marijuana, particularly because a prescription allows anyone to grow the maximum amount – there is no set dose and it’s relatively easy to grow, “just a little extra.”

An article on Rock Center says traffickers are hiding behind California’s liberal marijuana cultivation rules. Patients can grow up to 99 plants under the law, and combining permissions from several patients into one “grow” can easily lead to huge marijuana farms.

The business model is straightforward. Hook up with a few patients who have a real medical need. Offer them free marijuana and cash to use their allotment. At about three pounds per plant, there’s plenty left over to sell, either to marijuana dispensaries or to the illegal market. The math works out to more than $100,000 to a million a year (depending on quality) in profits per patient. That’s a huge incentive and police have been seeing the results of this new “green economy.”
Last year, the Fresno County Sheriff's Office along with federal agents raided a 54-acre farm with more than 25,000 marijuana plants.

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