Beating the House: Ethnographic Insights into a Web-Based Marijuana Grey Market

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Online drug dealing to date largely has transpired through darknet crypto-markets inaccessible to outsiders without remote site access or knowledge of trade jargon, processes, and transaction steps. Surface web search engines are increasingly driving the marijuana market, however, and apt to minimize darknet activity. This study relates covert participant observations of illicit surface web-dependent delivery services in Las Vegas’ robust marijuana industry for 20 months prior to the COVID pandemic. Interaction with employees from seven unlicensed delivery services enabled exploratory insights regarding grey market advertising, transaction dynamics, industry regulatory noncompliance, and related degree of concern about law enforcement. Findings suggest that unlicensed services are masked by medical and recreational markets, maximize profit by predating upon exploitable market segments and manipulating economies of scale, and brazenly operate openly unflustered about enforcement intervention. Discussion centers on industry noncompliance and related pubic harm associated from tax and fee avoidance as a consequence of grey market non-enforcement as well as suggestions for further research.

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