California has found that it’s far easier to declare cannabis legal than it is to create a well-regulated cannabis market, said panelists at Zócalo/UCLA Downtown held at Cross Campus DTLA.

The panelists, which included Brad Rowe, lecturer of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Dr. Timothy Fong, clinical professor of psychiatry at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA; and Cat Packer, executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation, discussed the complicated factors that contributed to a cannabis regulation regime that the event’s moderator, Rolling Stone columnist Amanda Chicago Lewis, referred to as a mess.

While California holds the distinction of being the first state in the country to sanction the use of medical marijuana in 1996, it took another two decades for California voters to legalize growing and selling cannabis for recreational use among adults. That legalization, approved in 2016 via the statewide initiative Proposition 64, went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. In an instant, California became the largest government-sanctioned market for marijuana in the United States, but its communities, including Los Angeles, were profoundly unprepared to handle commercial cannabis jurisdiction.

“It is the 800-pound gorilla,” Rowe said of the illicit market. “Anyone who’s running a large operation and making money off the books, they have to handle their disputes extrajudicially; they have to carry weapons, and they also are paying off officials. Someone has to turn an eye, so they’re corrupting your public officials or your law enforcement officers.”

Said Fong: “The illicit market, the unregulated market, is not good for anybody — physically, mentally, socially — at all.” He shared a story about someone he knew in the business of producing unregulated cartridges for vape pens.

“I said to him, ‘How do you do it?’” Fong recalled. The answer was the operators would open up different chemicals and pour them into a pot. “Like a scene out of ‘Breaking Bad, he would put on the sterile suit, pour out the juice into containers and pipet it,” he added.

Read the full story at Zócalo Public Square.