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America Grows—Grow America

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As more and more attention is paid to the size and economic value of the emerging legal cannabis market, it’s easy to overlook the magnitude and extent of the larger, more established and more profitable illegal market.

Since the early 1980s, the DEA has been funneling money and manpower to state police and various para-military task forces to locate, eradicate and suppress domestic marijuana cultivation throughout the United States. They haven’t been very successful at this, but they have kept at it over the years. More importantly, their annual reports on the number of grow sites and the number of cultivated plants they have seized provide the only real, solid, tangible data on domestic marijuana cultivation.

When the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program first began, the DEA not only published data on how many plants they ripped out of the ground, but also estimates of what percentage of the total they had seized. This enabled NORML (and later this author) to produce estimates of the economic value of the un-eradicated domestic marijuana crop, estimates that were later verified in the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s and State Department’s own reports on the subject.

That’s old news, and anyone doubting the economic value of domestically grown marijuana in the United States need look no farther than reports on legal marijuana sales in many states throughout the country, not to mention the tax revenue it has produced.

Nonetheless, conventional wisdom has been that the DEA and local police are only able to eradicate a small percentage of the total number of cultivated plants in the country, perhaps somewhere between 10 percent and 33 percent of the total. But this concerns outdoor cannabis cultivation, which has had the unintended effect of driving a great deal of cultivation indoors, where it is much more productive and much more difficult to detect.

With that in mind, here is some interesting data from the DEA’s seizure of marijuana plants in 2015.

Overall, the DEA seized 4,257,220 cultivated marijuana plants in 2015. Of these, 3,932,201 were cultivated outdoors at 6,421 sites, and 325,019 were cultivated indoor at 1,948 sites.

About 62 percent of their total seizures took place in California, where 2,400,699 outdoor plants and 243,0090 indoor plants were eradicated.

This work keeps a lot of law enforcement officers employed; and they like to keep busy.

Nationally, this program resulted in 6,278 arrests, and—perhaps more significantly for law enforcement—it resulted in the seizure of $29.7 million in assets (which law enforcement usually gets to keep for their own use). In California, eradication efforts resulted in 2,320 arrests and seizure of $7.1 million in assets.

After California, the rest of the top 10 states in terms of seized outdoor marijuana plants in 2015 were Kentucky (567,951), Texas (226,322), West Virginia (194,120), Tennessee (126,626), Indiana (53,402), Georgia (48, 084), Oregon (36,100), Virginia (35,926) and Wisconsin (30,645). Next were the newly legal states of Washington (28,525) and Colorado (26,545).

The top 10 states for seizure of indoor marijuana plants were California (of course), followed by Florida (13,606), Michigan (20,206), Indiana (10,128), Washington (7,407), Texas (5,338), Nevada (5,150), Kentucky (3,389), Oregon (3,038) and Ohio (2,863).

On the indoor front, the states where the most grow rooms were seized were California (645), Florida (242), Michigan (160), Indiana (159), New York (104), Kentucky, (91), Nevada (63), Wisconsin (59), Virginia (43) and Ohio (40).

Consider the following—in Kentucky, they have eradicated an average of 442,123 plants a year from 2002 through 2015, yet in 2015 they eradicated 571,340 plants.

In fact, from 2010 to 2015, the DEA and their allies increased their eradication totals every year.

Nonetheless, Kentucky marijuana growers find cultivation profitable enough to keep planting, knowing that hundreds of thousands of plants will never get to harvest due to eradication efforts.

Take this concept, and apply it nationally, not just in this century but going back to 1981 when domestic marijuana cultivation first began on a large scale in the United States.

America grows cannabis. America continues to grow cannabis, and legalized or not, marijuana consumers will continue to produce demand and incentives to grow American cannabis.

Jon Gettman is the Cannabis Policy Director for High Times. Jon has a Ph.D. in public policy, teaching undergraduate criminal justice and graduate level management courses. A long-time contributor to High Times, his research and analytical work has been used by NORML, Marijuana Policy Project, American’s for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. Jon’s research contributions to the topic of marijuana law reform have included findings on the economic value of domestic marijuana cultivation, attempts to have marijuana rescheduled under federal law and racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates. Serving as NORML’s National Director in the late 1980s, he was instrumental in creating NORML’s activist program.

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