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California begins legal recreational marijuana sales in 2018 and along with that, there are a host of questions about exactly how the system will work and the rules people need to follow. Wochit

Marijuana at Joy of Life Wellness Center in Palm Springs (Photo: Lance Gerber/DESERT magazine)

A new gold rush is sweeping California as the state prepares to launch legal marijuana sales Monday, bringing the powerful and largely underground economy finally into public view. 

Marijuana has long been one of California’s most important cash crops, albeit one many visitors would never see amid the vineyards and avocado farms. Now, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs are rushing to carve out a slice of an about-to-be-legal market that has grass-growing cannabis evangelists colliding with out-of-state suits eager to make a now-legal buck.

And there's a lot to be made: The state's existing marijuana black market is worth $13.5 billion, according to cannabis financial analysis firm GreenWave Advisors, while the legal market could be worth $5.1 billion in 2018.

More: Marijuana's legalization fuels black market in other states

“You’re taking an industry that was completely underground and making it the most regulated product of all time,” said Jessica Lilga, who runs a medical cannabis distribution service in Oakland, Calif., and hopes to expand into recreational pot. “It’s just insane.”

Legalization through voter approval of Prop. 64, which created a system for legally growing and selling cannabis, also raises concerns about whether kids will start using more marijuana thanks to increased visibility and whether the state is creating a new Big Tobacco industry that puts profits ahead of public health.

Marijuana plants at PSA Organica in Palm Springs (Photo: Lance Gerber/DES...
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