As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows

As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.

More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.

NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.

State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.

That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.

It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.

For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.

The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.

Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.

Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.

NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”

“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.

DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”

At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.


2 Responses

  1. The fact that they did not have to go out and chop down marijuana plants, should have resulted in a benefit to tax payers. Those operations were expensive and used a lot of manpower. Of course the money is now directed elsewhere, instead of back to the taxpayer.

  2. Those of us that fully realize that cannabis DOES have medicinal properties are still waiting for the “appropriate” dot/gov agency to “do something” concerning the re-classification of a natural substance that is not addictive, and realistically has some medicinal value. Meanwhile DEA has found another way to remain employed and that something is to enforce another dot/gov agencies “guideline” .which is directly destroying…. life….. and the pursuit of. What if DEA actually concentrated real effort on say, slowing illicit substances from flooding the USA? Is the sudden increase of illicit substances “imported” into the USA a coincidence? Of course not. People are in pain! Our dot/gov agencies know FULL WELL that the CDC “guideline” is consistently driving an agenda. A “mandate” if you will. Pain has been treated successfully for decades with none other than …..opiate medication and synthetic opioids. If the agenda is successful, then DEA might actually have to do the job “applied for” which is seizure of illicit, deadly, substances BEFORE they can enter the country…..hopefully. I suppose that might not keep DEA in business though. It eludes me, totally how an agency can “practice medicine” without the education, experience, and even a license to practice. Oh I forgot, they are just doing their jobs as per the “guideline” . What “guideline” is next? Makes me worry!

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