Just when it looks like the federal government isn’t going to put forth any additional effort to enforce existing marijuana laws, an agency steps up and surprises us. That agency is none other than the DEA. And apparently, last year (2021) was a very big year for them in marijuana enforcement. Arrests and seizures were up considerably in that year. So what’s the deal?
Marijuana legalization advocates are asking that very question. They note how little sense it makes for the DEA to ramp up enforcement efforts while other federal agencies have continued to hold back. Meanwhile, it appears as though congress is taking real action to decriminalize marijuana altogether. This makes the DEA’s actions even more confusing.
By the Numbers
DEA numbers show the agency made more than 6,600 marijuana-related arrests in 2021. They also seized some 5.5 million marijuana plants. The numbers represent a 32% increase in arrests and 22% increase in plants confiscated. Either the DEA is suddenly being a lot more aggressive, or marijuana crimes are drastically increasing.
What is not clear from the data is who federal agents have been arresting and charging. Are these domestic operators with illegal grows in states that do not allow cannabis? Are they operators from other countries smuggling their marijuana into the U.S.? It would be helpful to know this information.
Unfortunately, the DEA is not giving us much to work with. For all we know, the agency is trying to maximize its marijuana busts before lawmakers get decriminalization done. After all, property forfeiture laws allow law enforcement to seize and keep property obtained through the illegal drug trade. Maybe that’s what this is about.
Crossing State Lines
Maybe the big issue the DEA wants to stop is transporting cannabis across state lines. Maybe they don’t care about cannabis at the state level but, as soon as it becomes an interstate commerce problem, things change. Who knows?
As things stand, most states have laws on the books prohibiting bringing cannabis in from neighboring states. Utah is one of them. A Salt Lake City patient looking to buy from Beehive Farmacy has pretty easy access. But someone living in a more rural part of the state would have to depend on home delivery or drive into the city. Driving across the border to buy cannabis in Colorado is a no-no.
Crossing state lines while in possession of cannabis is a federal crime. But even in Utah, possession is still limited within state borders. Medical cannabis users can only possess so much at a time and only with a valid medical cannabis card. Being found with too much automatically raises suspicion.
The Black Market Problem
Underlying the whole DEA question is the reality that America’s black market problem is very real. DEA critics say the agency should not continue aggressively fighting cannabis crimes because domestic legalization has cut down on black market imports. Let us assume that this is true. The only difference between imports and domestic products on the black market is origin. Black market cannabis is still black market cannabis.
Perhaps that’s what the DEA is interested in. Maybe they only want to do their part to shut down black market operations. We just don’t know. If that were the case though, industry complaints would fall on deaf ears. Why? Because taking out the black market would only benefit legal operators.
All we know at this point is that the DEA was busy working on marijuana enforcement in 2021. It will be interesting to see how 2022 turns out. What is your bet? Does the DEA improve its numbers over 2021?