Legal Marijuana Could Be a $5B Boon to State Economy — But Some Users May Continue to Purchase Illegally

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Patrons shop at Bud and Bloom, a Santa Ana marijuana dispensary. A new study commissioned by the state says California's economy will benefit from a new regulated system expected to be in place Jan. 1. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California is on the verge of creating a legal market for marijuana worth more than $5 billion that will help make the state a destination for pot-loving tourists, according to a new state-sponsored economic study.

But about 29% of all cannabis consumers may stay in the illegal market at first to avoid the cost of new regulations requiring the pot to be tested, tracked and taxed at 15% of its retail value, according to the study by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center.

State officials developing the regulations hope to gradually persuade the vast majority of cannabis users to go through the legal market, said Lori Ajax, director of the state Bureau of Marijuana Control, which hired the center to look at the economic impact of the new rules.

“It’s going to take some time,” Ajax said. “While it’s unlikely that everyone will come into the regulated market on Day 1, we plan to continue working with stakeholders as we move forward to increase participation over time.”

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