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5. Cannabis


The fifth episode of the Netflix series ‘The Business of Drugs’ examines the production and sale of cannabis. The presenter, Amaryllis Fox, focuses largely on the legality of cannabis in the US — she examines certain states and considers the moral rights and wrongs of the issue.

Cannabis leaf and joint

Cannabis is currently the most popular drug in the world, with over 200 million users, and the episode begins with a discussion on the business of ‘legal weed’. Throughout the United States, there is an established legal system of selling cannabis, but a higher percentage is sold on the black market. Cannabis was legalised in the State of California for medical use in 1996, and the States of Colorado and Washington made cannabis legal for recreational use in 2012. This has created a network of shops that can sell cannabis legally to adults as long as they follow strict guidelines and pay very high taxes. However, since making this change in the law in Colorado, sales of cannabis have reached $1 billion a year and it has become the legal drug of choice, overtaking both alcohol and nicotine.

The high taxes and strict laws attached to the legal sale of cannabis in California has caused a surge in the profitability of illegal sales of cannabis. This is because cannabis is classified as a schedule 1 drug, which is higher than cocaine which is a schedule 2 drug, so there are very tight laws around selling it legally. Amaryllis Fox met a cannabis farmer in Northern California who owns an illegal cannabis farm. He stated that the black market is much more lucrative for farmers like him. He explained that trying to make a business out of selling legal cannabis for some customers in California is difficult both commercially and legally. It therefore seems counter-productive to have made medical cannabis legal. His comments ring true when we consider the crime rates linked to the sale of cannabis on the black market which are forever increasing.

Legal cannabis farmers were also featured in this episode, and some even had the capital to make a good living. However, many of the smaller legal farmers were struggling. Large corporations have realised how profitable cannabis is and are pricing them out of the market.

There are a number of other products that can be extracted from the cannabis plant and the market for these is also increasing. They include vapes, oils, drinks, pills, lotion and even edibles such as cannabis chocolate. These markets are projected to grow and will continue to be part of a multi-billion dollar business.

The final issue Amaryllis highlighted was that of race. The majority of people making money from manufacturing and selling cannabis are white. However, there is a much higher percentage of arrests and jail terms for possession and selling cannabis among blacks, mainly black males. Cannabis use is roughly equal among blacks and whites, but African Americans are over three times more likely to be arrested or cited for cannabis possession when compared to whites. There is also the issue of cannabis and the law — the fact that it is legal in some states and illegal in others — which causes huge debate in the American legal justice system

Coming next, episode 6 — ‘The Business of Drugs: Opioids’.

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