We all know that going to a dispensary over a dealer offers many advantages. First of all, we don’t have to stretch before each transaction (we can because – yoga! – but it’s not a necessity). There’s no possibility that we’ll have to sprint down an alley and climb a chain link fence. Dispensaries have more product variety too – wax, concentrates, an array of flowers, pot brownies just like grandma used to make. You name it and, somewhere, a dispensary sells it.

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You also know what you’re getting when you solicit a legal shop While some people who buy off the streets worry about their marijuana being laced with something stronger, that’s not the biggest threat (dealers aren’t in the business of giving drugs away for free). You’re probably more likely to get catnip than a joint laced with ketamine. However, there is a major advantage to going to dealers: no taxes. The street is under the table…to black market, to black market to buy a fattie.

The Competition of the Black Market

States that have legalized recreationally continue to compete in a game where, financially, they have a levying disadvantage. And this allows the black market to stick around. The Tax Foundation found that many legal states set their taxes too high in the beginning. Some states have done away with taxes altogether. Just kidding! But they’ve reduced the amount applied. Colorado, on the other hand, has flip-flopped on its stance, first lowering them and then moving to increase them once more.

This move was not well-received by those in the industry (obviously), with many people pointing out that it’s not up to marijuana users to solve every budgetary problem. Supply and demand is always a factor too in the sale of anything. In many legal states, especially Colorado and Washington, it was a slow go in the beginning. The lines were long and the stash was limited. This drove up prices considerably. Prices leveled out as more dispensaries opened and regulations became old hat, the mass confusion no longer influencing the ability for a pot shop to stock inventory.

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The Advantage of Dispensaries

Dispensaries have several advantages over the streets. They’re clean, they’re safe, they’re legal. But those for cannabis don’t necessarily view buying from a dealer as doing anything wrong. Illegal does not mean immoral. Besides, let’s face it, buying pot from your cousin who grows it in his garage is not the same thing as stocking up on cold medicine so you can help your neighbor build a meth empire.

Still, cannabis dispensaries will always draw the “I don’t want to get in trouble, crowd” and for good reason – breaking the law does get you in trouble and many people don’t believe it’s worth the risk, not even if it saves them sales tax. Dispensaries will also draw people who don’t know where to go and they’ll do it with helpful budtenders who take the time to explain terpene profile and THC/CBD ratios. Most of us probably know a dealer, but we might not know that we do Even if we can think of someone to call, there’s probably a good chance they won’t take the time to discuss linalool and pinene.

The Price Wars

So, we know why the black market continues to thrive: money talks and that means some people walk out of a dispensary and onto the streets because of the taxation alone. But how do the prices compare? It’s difficult to say because neither the marijuana industry or the black market has a set rate.  It’s capitalism where people can set their own prices.

The price of Blue Dream, for example, will differ between dispensaries, even when those dispensaries are right down the street from each other. Wikileaf allows you to compare menus before you set foot inside a store. This helps assure a dispensary not only has what you want but also at the price you want. But there’s no such site for dealers. And this variation in cost goes for them too.

The dealer standing outside the 7-11 may give you one price where the one around the corner may “quote” you another. Yet, while it’s hard to name a blanket, one-shop-fits-all price, the prices are falling overall. According to Forbes, they plummeted in 2016, a reaction to more supply becoming available. And this was a steep drop off: prices fell from 2,500 dollars to 1,000 dollars a pound for wholesale marijuana. The cost of concentrates, however, wasn't all that affected. The cost of a gram of weed went from 15 dollars (in Washington) to 6 dollars In Colorado, it wasn’t as drastic: the price fell from 8 dollars a gram to five something.  In 2017, the prices rebounded, but not to pre-2016 levels.

Presently, dispensaries vary in how they sling hash. Some include taxes in their prices while others don’t. Still, at the beginning of 2017, the average pre-tax price for a top seller in Colorado was about six and half bucks. In Oregon, the price hovers around the 7-dollar mark, with low quality clearly going at a lower cost. In Alaska, the average cost is around ten dollars while DC really rakes it in at 18 dollars a gram. Where you live is a factor in how much you pay for most everything, weed included. Not only because of tax, but because of cost of living and affluence: dispensaries in high-class areas will charge more because they can.

Surprise Twist: Dealer vs. Dispensary

All the above may lead one to believe that the streets are always cheaper because they don’t apply taxes. But dealers are also risking their freedom and that comes with a “surcharge.” Most estimates put the street value of a gram of weed somewhere around 15 dollars, which makes it more expensive than many dispensaries (depending on where you live).

An element of this is that dealers supply to everyone, even if you’re under age. When they have something someone else wants and can’t otherwise get, its value goes up. And this is why dealers in recreationally legal states will charge less than those in non-legal states; they have competition. In non-legal areas, they set the market. That inflates overall going rate on the national level. Those in legal states have a choice of dispensary or dealer. Without taxes, dealers are often cheaper (and they deliver!). But, of course, they come at other possible costs.