DEA Statistics Reveal Domestic Cultivation Trends

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Supression Program (DCESP) works with state law enforcement to find and eradicate cultivated marijuana in the United States and is one of the few sources for data on domestically grown cannabis.

One of the most revealing aspects of the DCESP data is what it tell us about marijuana cultivation trends in the United States and the extent (rather than success or failure) of the government’s efforts to prevent domestically grown cannabis from getting to market.

In other words, a description of how much cannabis is seized and where it is seized also reveals where the most cannabis is grown and other interesting trends related to domestic cultivation.

This article is based on a review of the DCESP’s eradication statistics for 2010 through 2014 and is primarily based on the average data of various states for this five year period.

California remains the dominant focus of domestic marijuana cultivation in the United States with an average of 3.8 million plants seized annually from 2010 to 2014. The number of plants seized in California has dropped significantly from 7.2 million in 2010 and 3.7 million in 2011 to about 2.7 million in 2013 and 2.4 million in 2014—however the massive seizure numbers of these early years were due to extensive marijuana fields in national forests planted by sophisticated drug trafficking organizations. These operations resulted in a historic increase in marijuana plant seizures in California from 2008 through 2011. Recent seizures are consistent with the normal level of cultivation and eradication activity in California over the preceding decades.

California is in a class by itself. It leads the country in total number of plants seized, indoor plants seized, the number of indoor sites seized and the total value of assets seized by the DEA ($10.8 million). California is the leader in indoor cultivation, with an average of 665 sites and 208,280 plants seized per year from 2010 to 2014.  Even when factoring in California’s large population, the state still leads the nation, with 537 plants seized per 100,000 residents. California also leads the country with the largest grow sites with an average of 313 plants seized per site over this five year period.

Significant levels of domestic marijuana seizures highlight several other states as focal points for cannabis cultivation in the United States. Following California, the top five states for average total cultivated plants seized over this period were Kentucky (410,743), Tennessee (268,309), West Virginia (230,075), Washington (196,415) and Texas (145, 686). When controlling for population though, West Virginia actually outdoes California in terms of plants seized by the DEA per 100,000 residents, with 12,434 plants seized annually per every 100,000 residents compared to California’s 9,819.

Based on both factors, total plants seized and seized plants per 100,000 people, the top growing states in the county are California, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Washington, Texas, Oregon, Indiana, Hawaii, Michigan, Nebraska, Utah and Nevada (the last three due to a large number of plants per 100,000—for states with relatively small numbers of residents, they have a great deal of marijuana plants seized by the DEA.

The most indoor sites seized by the DEA on average from 2010 to 2014 were in California (665), Florida (600), Michigan (218) Indiana (190) and Oregon (155). Other leading states for indoor sites seized by DEA include Washington, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York, Alaska, Maine, Vermont and Montana (with the last four notable after controlling for population size).

While there were only an average of 55 indoor grow room seizures in Alaska annually, given the state’s small population, that was still 7.5 sites seized per 100,000 residents—the highest seizure rate in the United States (followed by Nevada at 4.2, Oregon at 3.9 and Florida at 3.0). After California, Alaska also led the country with the number of indoor plants seized rated for state population, followed by Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Montana.

The largest indoor grow sites, in terms of DEA seizures over this period were in California (313 plants per site), Texas (283), Colorado (248), Georgia (209) and Washington (156). Rounding out the top ten in grow room size were Massachusetts (129), South Carolina (117), Tennessee (116), Montana (115) and Ohio (107).

The DEA Domestic Cannabis Eradication Suppression Program also seizes property and assets related to domestic marijuana cultivation, seizing an average of $32.8 million annually from 2010 to 2014. About a third of these seizures took place in California ($10.8 million), followed by New York ($2.8 million), Washington ($2.3 million), Michigan ($2.1 million) and Georgia ($1.4 million). Other states with an average of over $1 million seized per year include Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Oregon and Virginia.

The amount of marijuana seized by the DEA varies from year to year and state to state, as does the eradication rate (how much of the total crop they are able to seize). In general terms, the DEA seizes about 4 million plants a year. About 10 percent of those seizures are indoor plants. Historically, domestic cannabis cultivation has grown in leaps and bounds since it emerged in the early 1980s, and the United States is now one of the leading producers of cannabis in the world.

Here’s what we learn from these eradication statistics—marijuana is grown throughout the United States. It is grown in large and small fields outdoors, and it is grown in large and small sites indoors. Over three decades of eradication activity has failed to curtail the domestic cultivation industry, and it is so decentralized now that it cannot be controlled by law enforcement.

Proposals to legalize marijuana in the United States should take note of this, and incorporate widespread access to any legal cultivation market introduced at the state or national level.

How many growers are there? It is hard to estimate from this data, but it is safe to say that their will to grow is strong, persistent and resistant to federal and state efforts to use criminal law to stop them. If the legal market does not make a place for these growers, they will continue to grow anyway.

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