If you smoke marijuana, odds are good you get it in one of three ways. Either you grow it, you buy it from a legal pot shop, or you buy it from a black market dealer. It’s a pretty simple arrangement: Someone grows weed, someone sells it, and someone uses it.

field of marijuanaOf course, if you grow on your own, you’ve got a one-stop shop. You may buy seeds, but otherwise there’s no need for outsiders. You plant the bud, you harvest the bud, you smoke the bud. But if you buy, it’s a lot more complicated than that. So here’s a short, surface-level look at the mysterious pipeline that provides your favorite drug.

Legal Marijuana

If you’re buying from a retail pot shop, there’s a clear, legally delineated chain of production. It starts with the grower.

In some states, cannabis farmers are licensed separately and must sell their supply wholesale, while in others, the same businesses that grow weed are licensed to sell it. In either case, the farmer is the most important person in the delivery chain. Cultivating an award-winning strain takes dedication, skill, and long experience in the industry. This is true in any area of agriculture, but it’s especially true with marijuana. Without a quality grower, weed won’t sell.

The same isn’t true of other links in the chain. Sellers, like dealers, are mostly interchangeable. They rise or fall on the quality of the product they provide, not the brilliance of their corporate strategy. Even the world’s worst business person could sell good marijuana.

From the grower, we move to the processor. Among other jobs, these are the good people who cook marijuana into edibles, extract hash oil, and otherwise improve on the cannabis experience. This is not an essential step for dried bud, the stuff most people toke, but anything fancy comes through the processing stage.

Next are the shippers. In places where marijuana is legal, this is a limited role, as product only needs to travel short distances from farm to store. But running cannabis under any circumstances is risky, so the job is critical.

Finally, the retailer puts your favorite grass on the counter and you buy it. Of course, you’ll be paying more than the stuff is worth wholesale, as extra costs pile up at each point of production, and that’s not accounting for state and local taxes. Still, all things considered, the system works pretty well.

The Black Market

If you’re buying your marijuana on the illegal market, it’s probably best you not know too much about how your dealer gets her supply. You definitely shouldn’t ask. But there are some general rules about how weed gets from the source to you.

First, much if not most illicit cannabis starts its journey in California. Specifically, a three-county region in Northern California known as the Emerald Triangle.

Even in the Golden State, with its famous medical marijuana program, large cannabis grows are typically clandestine. If you’re trying to picture the farmer who supplies your dealer, imagine a scrawny, poorly shaven ex-hippie who lives off the land yet is armed to the teeth.

From the grower, your black market pot goes to the illegal equivalent of legitimate processors. These people often work with the growers, and their methods are usually much less professional than you’ll find legally. This can mean adulterated concentrates, among other problems for users.

Illegal shippers – better known as “traffickers” – are even more important here than on the legal market. Illicit drugs often travel between states, and that dramatically increases the risk for shippers, since federal trafficking charges become possible.

Legalization makes everything safer

buds in jars pot shopBut the key difference between legal and illegal sales comes at the retail level. A marijuana shop typically has no boss, while your local black market dealer likely gets her stuff from bigger dealers further up the chain. How many levels are there? Only your dealer knows the answer to that, and she’s not about to tell you.

Stoners are sometimes troubled by the implications of buying weed on the black market. They picture a violent underworld populated with gangsters, sociopaths, and junkies, when in reality it’s mostly just a loose scattering of underachievers looking for an easier path in life.

However you get your marijuana, remember that there are a lot of real people, most of them good, who helped get it to you. How can you repay the favor? Support legalization and make everyone’s job safer, healthier, and even more productive.

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