The FBI has appealed to the public to provide it with tip-offs about corrupt public officials taking bribes in exchange for issuing marijuana licences.

The Bureau sees a credible public corruption threat as an increasing number of states change their cannabis legislation.

It warned the problem is more prevalent in western states, where licensing is decentralized. The FBI said this means corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials, who are susceptible to bribes in exchange for coveted, lucrative marijuana licences.

We’ve seen in some states the price go as high as $500,000 for a license to sell marijuana, so we see people willing to pay large amounts of money to get in to the industry,” said supervisory special agent Regino Chavez.

The FBI is also concerned about the number of illegal dispensaries operating across the country, particularly in western states. It urged members of the public to contact their local FBI field office if they suspect a dispensary is operating without a licence, or if they suspect corruption among public officials with regards to the burgeoning marijuana industry.

The issue of unlicensed dispensaries is particularly pressing in California, where regulated retailers are pleading with the authorities to clamp down on their illicit counterparts.

Industry body the California Minority Alliance has also written to Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office, threatening to sue if it does not take action to stamp out the threat that unlicensed retailers pose to the city’s legal businesses.

The Golden State is the world’s biggest marijuana market, but it remains illegal at a federal level. This means American banks cannot accept business from cannabis cultivators and retailers, as it is considered to be handling money from criminal activity at a federal level.

That has left California cannabis businesses reliant on cash, which prevents the state from earning its fair share of taxes and also puts companies at risk of robbery. Another consequence of California being awash with cannabis cash is bribery of public officials, according to an LA Times article published earlier this year.

Sheriffs have been offered cash to keep deputies away from illegal cannabis farms, while various politicians, building inspectors and developers have been charged with bribery. This is an issue in other states too, and the FBI is launching a crackdown.

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