Legalization of recreational cannabis is likely coming to New Jersey soon, which isn't news to illicit dealers since Governor Phil Murphy (D) made marijuana reform a key part of his gubernatorial platform. While one of the goals of legalization is to crush the illicit markets, many of these black market dealers say legalization will only make them more relevant.
One street dealer says that consumers who are unfamiliar with cannabis will probably buy through legal channels at first, but taxes will eventually drive them to the black market.
"You're going to get people who don't know their left from their right and won't know what to ask. That's who the state's going to capitalize on," DC, an illicit cannabis seller told the Asbury Park Press. "But, after a while, it'll be: 'Why am I paying taxes on this? Why am I paying double the price?'"
Pricing is one major area where legal markets across the country have struggled to compete with the black market. Taxes, health and safety regulations and environmental concerns often drive the cost of legal marijuana up to levels beyond what illegal sellers need to charge for their product.
Illicit dealers say the underground cannabis industry has other advantages over legitimate channels too. There is a pride and passion in the underground market that consumers don't see in legal dispensaries, according to DC.
"You come to the underground and people know what they're talking about. People are proud of what they do and the quality that they put themselves behind. People are so passionate about it and so passionate about what they do—even if it's technically illegal."
And as legalization slowly moves into the state, arrests for possession and use of marijuana have begun to trail off. Police are increasingly directed to place cannabis-related crimes low on their priority list, or to ignore them altogether. Because of this, pop-up cannabis markets can be heavily promoted on social media and even sell entry tickets through big event promotion websites like Eventbrite without fear of being shut down, says Ed Forchion - the cannabis advocate best known as NJ Weedman.
"If the cops wanted to stop these from happening, they would have by now," he said.
But some illicit cannabis dealers admit they would love to enter the legal market one day. However, turning legit is harder than it sounds.
"That's the dream for a lot of people, for a lot of regular guys. If you have the clientele, if you know the right people, if you have legitimate money to back you and politicians on your side, you might end up in a decent situation," said David, another illicit cannabis dealer. "But who does? Nobody in an urban situation in New Jersey has the resources to operate under the guidelines they want you to operate under. There are restrictions that are impossible to meet."
Meanwhile, in Canada - the second country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis - the majority of recreational sales are made through the black market, so the New Jersey dealers might be right when they say there's no need to worry about going out of business.