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Marijuana Sales Out of Shadows in California


No longer relegated to the street corner, marijuana can now be ordered by phone and delivered to your home in California, a byproduct of the state's medical-marijuana law and the Obama administration's decision to scale back raids on providers of the drug.

The Associated Press reported July 19 that medical-marijuana patients can order the drug with the ease of getting a pizza delivered, or go into a retail store like the Farmacy chain in Los Angeles. There's still plenty of black-market drugs available, experts say. But the marijuana business in California is easing towards legitimacy and spawning an economic boom in places like the so-called Emerald Triangle (Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties), with so-called “compassion clubs” expanding and hireing workers, stores selling growing equipment, and clinics touting the services of doctors who certify medical-marijuana patients.

On the down side are marijuana farms that damage public lands, indoor grow operations that drive up real-estate prices, and violent crime related to the drug trade.

With the California marijuana crop valued at $17 billion annually, some lawmakers are pushing for even broader legalization, such as tax plans that could bring in $1.3 billion a year for the state. More than half of state residents support marijuana legalization.

Marijuana money is a potent force in Ukiah, the largest city in the Emerald Triangle. “I really don't think we would exist without it,” said wine and garden shop owner Nicole Martensen. For retailers, however, the marijuana business has been a mixed blessing when hiring because they cannot compete with the wages paid by grow operators.

Marijuana growers who use the state's medical-marijuana laws as a cover for drug dealing still face arrest and prosecution. “We operated out in the open, and the feds knew who we were and they let us do it for four years, so as time goes on you get this comfortable feeling,” said Sparky Rose, now serving time in federal prison on drug charges. “While I was still in the business, a lot people would ask me, 'I'm thinking about starting a club, what advice do you have?' “And I'd say, 'The biggest warning is sooner or later, you will start to think it's legal.'”

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