Although marijuana is now legal for medicinal and recreational purposes in well over half the nation, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continues to spend millions of dollars scouring the nation searching for cannabis plants to destroy. In some cases, as it was pointed out on Friday in a report from the Washington Post, Uncle Sam’s leading drug agency is spending significant amounts of our money and coming up empty handed.
Federal documents obtained by journalist Drew Arkins shows the DEA’s Marijuana Eradication Program provided agents in New Hampshire with $20,000 last year to rid the state of illegal marijuana plants. That money paid for law enforcement to take down only a single outdoor grow operation – costing the U.S. taxpayer over $740 per plant.
In Utah, where a member of the local marijuana eradication team told a Senate panel last year that illegal marijuana grow sites were creating stoned rabbits, the DEA spent $73,000 for the state’s weed pulling expedition, which resulted in the discovery of not a single pot plant. That’s a hell of a lot of money to spend a year just to come up with nothing.
The DEA’s marijuana eradication program, which currently has an annual budget of $14 million, is something that federal lawmakers have been trying to defund for the past couple of years. Congressional forces have introduced measures aimed at castrating the program by reallocating those funds to programs designed to reduce domestic violence and other agendas they believe would "play a far more useful role in promoting the safety and economic prosperity of the American people.”
But marijuana is being legalized all over the country. So far, 25 states and the District of Columbia have made it legal for medicinal purposes, while four states have ended prohibition altogether. This November, voters in a number of states will decide on whether to they want legal weed – potentially putting the nation in the position of having more legal states than not.
Right now, the DEA is giving California, where medical marijuana has been legal for 20 years, more than $5.3 million to uproot pot plants. That’s the most money being spent in any state for eradication efforts. Kentucky ranks next with almost $2 million.
California is set to legalize a recreational cannabis industry later this year, which one would think would bring the budget down to zero. But then again weed is also legal in Washington, and it is still one of the top five states for marijuana eradication – receiving $950,000 in 2015. Even Oregon, another legal state, got its hands on $200,000.
Colorado, which launched a recreational pot market in 2014, received absolutely no money last year to eradicate pot plants. Neither did Alaska. So it remains unclear exactly what criteria the DEA uses to determine how it will allocate its “weed pulling” budget.
“I think the DEA’s marijuana eradication program is a huge waste of federal taxpayer dollars,” Congressman Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, told KGW in 2015. “We have states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado that have legalized marijuana, and then you’ve got the federal government trying to eradicate it. That doesn’t make any sense.”