[Editor’s note: Call it a terrible waste of police time, an unnecessary risk to law enforcement personnels’ lives, a loud and destructive invasion of one’s curtilage, the proverbial taxpayer-funded pursuit of a needle in a haystack, an unintended government-provided price support for an illegal and untaxed commercial market, or a bizarre police ruse where a valuable agricultural product—industrial hemp; which is even subsidized by the European Union to cultivate as an industrial fiber crop—is paraded out in front of unknowing (or not…) media who dutifully snap photos, capture video and write about any one law enforcement project involved in regional domestic cannabis eradication as being ‘successful’.
Call it what ever you choose, but it is that time of year again to see where and in what quantities the DEA claims it whacks and stacks outdoor and indoor cannabis eradicated within America’s borders, even though, as noted below, the DEA stopped honestly reporting the ratio of World War II-era feral hemp eradicated to actual cultivated cannabis plants (for recreational or medical uses) in 2006.]
by Matthew Donigian, NORML legal intern, University of Illinois — College of Law
In the most recent DEA Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Statistical Report, the DEA indicated that over 10 million marijuana plants throughout the United States were destroyed by the agency. According to this report, most of the eradicated plants were found in California, followed by West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Washington State. The states with the least eradicated plants were Rhode Island, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Delaware.
The report also detailed the number of eradicated plants that were being cultivated indoors. The states with the highest number of eradicated indoor plants were California, Florida, Washington, Michigan, and Ohio. California is the obvious leader here, since its highly successful medical marijuana market has been the primary target of DEA operations. However, proponents of merciless penalties for cultivation of marijuana in Florida may be surprised to see the state in the number two spot, ahead of both Michigan and Washington State, two of the largest medical marijuana jurisdictions. It seems that the policy touted by supporters as the silver bullet to large-scale marijuana production in the state has failed.
This should not come as a surprise to those familiar with the rhetoric supporting the failed War on Drugs. For the past 40 years, the federal government has promised decreased crime, overdose deaths, and addiction rates as a result of the punitive and prohibitive approach of the war and drugs, but has failed to deliver these results. In 2009, Florida drastically increased its penalties for cultivation of marijuana, which punish the cultivation of 25 or more marijuana plants with up to 15 years of imprisonment. Much like federal marijuana prohibition, increasing penalties in Florida in order to decrease cultivation has been an abject failure. In the most recent DEA eradication report, Florida ranked second in eradicated indoor marijuana plants, with 51,366 plants eradicated in 2010, only 1265 fewer plants than were eradicated per year from 1998-2008 (on average). In addition there were nearly 500 more arrests associated with marijuana eradication in 2010 than there were on average between the years of 1998-2008.
In addition, since 2006, the report excludes statistics on the number of “ditchweed” or non-cultivated feral marijuana plants, eradicated each year. According to the DEA, eradication of ditchweed is still taking place but the agency refrains from reporting the number of eradicated plants, making it difficult to estimate the resources spent on this practice. The federal government seems to have misinterpreted criticism that the practice was a waste of resources; critics were not upset with the governments reporting of “ditchweed”, but rather the practice of seeking out and burning non-smokeable and non-cultivated cannabis plants. The last published eradication data for “ditchweed” indicated that over 200 million or 98 percent of all plants eradicated were feral marijuana. The current practice of non-reporting provides the American people with little information on where DEA resources are being utilized, and effectively hides the amount of money spent on an unintelligible practice.
Increasing penalties against marijuana crimes and eradicating marijuana plants does nothing to prevent the use of marijuana. Since the war on drugs began the potency of marijuana has increased, as has the amount of marijuana grown. Similarly, the war on drugs has not even been effective at reducing teenage use. According to the National Institute on Drug abuse 41.7% of 12th graders had tried marijuana in 1995. By 2008 this number rose to 42.6%.
Marijuana prohibition has clearly failed. Hiding eradication statistics and putting responsible people in jail will not change that.