In a new report, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials admitted that access to legal cannabis is expected to decrease the demand for black market weed, while also subtly acknowledging the inevitability of widespread legalization.
The admission is buried deep in the agency's performance budget submission to Congress for the 2021 fiscal year. In this report, the DEA overviews its enforcement efforts and predicts how future trends will shape its ongoing policies. Among these predictions, the agency notes that Florida's recent legalization of smokable medical marijuana is expected to decrease the demand for illegal pot in the surrounding area.
“After the 2017 legalization of medical marijuana in Florida resulted in retail distribution centers... the legalization of low-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (10%) smokable medical marijuana in March 2019 is anticipated to lead to a growing market for Florida-sourced low-THC marijuana,” the report reads, according to Marijuana Moment.
“Yet, until high potency marijuana becomes legalized in Florida, we believe the impact will be minimal on the demand for high-THC marijuana from California and other states,” the report continues. “Until then, the potential for abusing current law remains a possibility due to the difficulty in detecting THC potency by law enforcement.”
The DEA seems to have come to the “obvious” conclusion that most people would prefer to support legal weed markets, said Justin Strekal, political director of NORML. “Just as the practice of bootlegging moonshine declined after the legalization of alcohol, so too would the smuggling of illicit market marijuana in a legal, regulated state,” he told Marijuana Moment, adding that this trend has been “seen in practice for years in states all across the country.”
The specific wording of the report also reveals that the DEA recognizes the inevitability of legalization. Instead of saying “if high potency marijuana becomes legalized in Florida,” the report says “until...” suggesting the feds are well aware that legalization will eventually prevail. “Their framing clearly indicates that the days of prohibition are nearly over,” Strekal said. “We are living through the death rattles of prohibition.”
Florida voters legalized medical marijuana on a ballot measure in 2016, but lawmakers quickly passed a law to restrict the program, limiting the total number of business licenses and banning smokable marijuana. Activists challenged the constitutionality of the law, and a state judge agreed to overturn the ban in 2018. Smokable pot became available one year ago this month, and state dispensaries sold 22,000 pounds of flower in just six months.
Activists have also been fighting to bring full adult-use legalization to the Sunshine State by way of a new ballot initiative. Lawmakers managed to delay the process with a new law making the ballot petitioning process more difficult, but advocacy groups are now working to bring an adult-use initiative to next year's ballot.