Weed, alcohol, and countless other substances have faced the wrath of our legal system, but the high derived from greed and opportunism remains legal and immune to scrutiny. As there was a corporate interest in the prohibition of weed, there's lots of money to be made in legalizing it, beyond the simple cultivation and dispensation of the plant itself. There's money to be made purely from the hype.

When cannabis penny stocks exploded earlier this year, it recalled the lesson The Wolf of Wall Street taught us a few months earlier: the low prices don't spare the penny stock game any shadiness. An upcoming Forbes article highlights the murky background of Michael Mona Jr., CEO of CannaVest, a company high on the list of pot penny stock successes. By banking on the "sizzle" that attracts low-involvement investors who want to cash in on the massive anticipated cannabis market, CannaVest managed to inflate it's value without ever clarifying what they do, exactly. It turns out many of the cannabis companies were other types of businesses that simply changed their professed nature on paper. Yet, it's hard to be surprised by such manipulation at any level in our financial sector. As the article puts it, "a multi-billion dollar industry run for decades by criminals and now traded on the vehicle of choice for financially savvy swindlers and hucksters! What could possible go wrong?" It's scary how many fields of business this applies to. 
 
For those who got into the cannabis business not for the hype, not to fake their way to riches, but because they believe in it and think everyone should have access to it, there is little support. After the federal government's reassurances failed to mollify banks fearing prosecution for handling weed money, many legal cannabis businesses are still stacking their profits in cash, drawing the threat of robbery. A new cryptocurrency called PotCoin, which is basically bitcoin for weed money, offers an alternative for the affected businesses. It's nice that there's a fallback, but if PotCoin becomes the only viable option for legal marijuana businesses, it would mark a massive failing of the federal government's response to the wave of legalization. 
 
As they skirt any tangible action on the issue at home, the federal government has developed an interest in Ukrainian cannabis. The US Department of Agriculture is planning on buying crap tons of hemp seeds from Ukraine, one of the world's largest producers of industrial hemp, in order to boost the troubled nation's economy. Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack says they are now "trying to figure out ways in which we might be able to use the industrial hemp seeds created in the Ukraine in the US." First off, Vilsack has clearly never been to a vegan juice bar. Secondly, he might want to check with his boss about the cannabis plant still being a Schedule 1 drug in the US, denying it has any benefit at all. 
 
One arm of the government imports foreign cannabis, and another holds thousands in prison for possessing small amounts of it. Even if marijuana was federally legalized tomorrow, it still may mean nothing for past offenders. The US is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't guarantee retroactive ameliorative relief -- you stay in jail even if the crime that put you there becomes legal. Addressing this issue at state level, Colorado recently made progress toward retroactively reducing sentences for cannabis-related crimes. Nevertheless, our federal prisons could remain packed with nonviolent offenders, busted for weed, for an entire generation. It ruins lives, costs exorbitant amounts of money, and is fundamentally unjust, but there is one beneficiary of mass imprisonment -- the private industry running America's prisons. As you'll find behind most unspoken, ongoing scandals, from penny stocks to the private prison system, money is the only drug that's truly unregulated. 

T. Kid is the author of VICE’s Weediquette column. Follow him on Twitter: @ImYourKid