The US Drug Enforcement Administration and its law enforcement partners arrested fewer people for cannabis-related offenses in 2022 compared to the previous year, according to annual data from the federal agency. The DEA also seized nearly 6 million cannabis plants from illicit marijuana grows across the country last year, slightly more than the number of illegal cannabis plants seized by federal law enforcement officers in 2021.
According to the DEA’s yearly Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Statistical Report, the agency and its law enforcement partners confiscated 5.7 million marijuana plants through its nationwide eradication operations, an increase of 3% over last year’s total. Federal interdiction operations also resulted in the confiscation of approximately 37,000 THC-infused edible products and about 60,000 cannabis concentrates.
According to the annual report from the DEA, the agency’s cannabis eradication efforts in 2022 were “responsible for the eradication of 4,435,859 illegally cultivated outdoor cannabis plants and 1,245,980 illegally cultivated indoor plants for a total of 5,681,839 illegally cultivated marijuana plants. The program also removed 2,840 weapons from cannabis cultivators.”
The number of cannabis plants seized by the DEA in 2022 is the highest total since 2011. Since that year, seizures had steadily declined before spiking in 2021, when the agency eradicated more than 5.5 million cannabis plants. Arrests for cannabis-related offenses were down, however, with 5,061 arrests in 2022 compared to 6,606 in 2021, a reduction of 24% year to year. Federal agents and their local law enforcement partners also reported the seizure of $45 million in assets in 2022 as part of the agency’s nationwide interdiction program, less than half of the $103 million seized the year before
Morgan Fox, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that cannabis interdictions and arrests remain high even though 38 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories have approved comprehensive medical marijuana legalization statutes and 23 states have ended the prohibition on marijuana for adults.
“The reasons we are still seeing relatively high levels of marijuana eradication and interdiction are simple,” Fox said in a statement from NORML. “Despite considerable state-level progress, more than half of all US states continue to ban regulated adult-use cannabis markets. Furthermore, the federal government overtaxes state-licensed cannabis businesses and makes it extremely difficult for them to access basic financial services so that they can better compete with unregulated operators.”
The data on cannabis arrests and seizures are compiled annually as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP), the only nationwide law enforcement program that exclusively targets drug trafficking organizations involved in cannabis cultivation. The DCE/SP began funding marijuana eradication programs in Hawaii and California in 1979 and was quickly expanded to include programs in 25 states by 1982. By 1985, all 50 states were participating in the DEA’s marijuana eradication and suppression program. Last year, 37 states were active in the DCE/SP.
The Golden State saw the most interdiction action from the DEA in 2022, with 88% of the seizures (4.9 million cannabis plants) by the agency and its law enforcement partners, and 52% of the arrests. The high totals come despite the state’s legalization of cannabis in 2016. Dale Gieringer, the coordinator of the California branch of NORML, said that underground operators in the state continue to supply much of the illicit marijuana to states that maintain the prohibition on cannabis.
“California has always exported the majority of its marijuana crop out of state and the adoption of adult-use legalization in the Golden State has done little to change this fact,” Gieringer said. “Illegal marijuana cultivation will persist in California so long as there remains a substantial demand from other states and as long as interstate commerce remains prohibited by federal law.”
The DEA also reported significant totals for plants seized in other states, including Oklahoma, where 342,746 plants were seized by the agency and its partners. Another 184,295 plants were confiscated in Kentucky, while law enforcement officers seized 50,301 marijuana plants in West Virginia. All three states continue to prohibit recreational marijuana for adults.
With seizures of marijuana plants at the highest level in more than a decade despite continued prohibition, reform advocates say it is time for the nation to rethink the nation’s cannabis policy.
“Spending billions of taxpayers’ dollars to enforce federal cannabis prohibition, putting law enforcement officers in unnecessary danger, and hampering the implementation and effectiveness of state-regulated markets are clearly not the answers to this issue,” Fox says from NORML. “Rather, the federal and state governments should work toward furthering sensible policies that facilitate regulated cannabis markets and work to repair the harms caused by nearly a century of prohibition.”