According to the latest data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there were 33 million annual marijuana users in the United States in 2013.
The mission of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is to enforce the controlled substance laws (which include the prohibition of marijuana), bring those involved in illegal drug production to the justice system and reduce the availability of illicit controlled substances.
But the NSDUH reports that 58.5 percent of Americans find marijuana fairly or very easy to obtain. Of course, that’s everybody—availability differs somewhat by age.The biggest challenge for law enforcement, and public health officials, is that 48.7 percent of those age 12 to 17 find marijuana easy to obtain. It gets a lot easier, though, for those age 18 to 25, because 75.3 percent of this age group can easily obtain marijuana.
Older folks have a little more trouble finding pot. In the 26 to 34 age group, 68.9 percent find marijuana fairly or very easy to obtain. In the 35 to 49 age group, 61.1 percent, and for those 50 or older, it’s 49.7 percent.
To really understand how widely marijuana is available these days, look at the flip side of these figures. How many Americans do not find marijuana easy to obtain? Half of teenagers, one-fourth of young adults, about one-third of those 26 to 49 and half of those 50 and over don’t know where they can obtain weed.
How much of this is a reflection of the performance of the DEA and their ability to fulfill their mission?
Not much, actually, because they really don’t have much control over the cultivation and distribution of marijuana. That’s why prohibition is a failure—the law cannot control the technology of production. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the legislation the DEA is tasked with enforcing, is designed to enforce closed production systems.
Pills are made in factories. They are counted, shipped to distribution points, counted, shipped to pharmacies, counted and sold to customers with prescriptions. The enforcement system is built to deal with a limited and known number of manufacturing, distribution and retail facilities. Count the pill in each place and make sure none are diverted from the system, and when they are diverted, find out who is responsible.
That is a manageable task.
The problem with marijuana, with respect to the CSA, is that the drug can be grown anywhere, and it is.
In the past, the DEA has addressed this flaw in the CSA by seizing as much marijuana as they can. They eradicate marijuana fields overseas, seize marijuana at the border, eradicate domestically grown marijuana and seize as much pot as they can find in the United States—and in these operations they are assisted by foreign, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Given these realities, it is perhaps unfair to judge the DEA—when it comes to marijuana—by the extent of marijuana use and marijuana’s availability in the United States. As far as pot is concerned, the primary indicator of their success or failure is the amount of marijuana they are able to take off the market, in terms of eradicating plants and bulk seizures.
Before looking at seizure statistics, it is useful to note that the DEA has arrested, through direct action, an average of 32,000 people annually for domestic drug law violations over the last 20 years. When it comes to domestic marijuana cultivation, for example, they have averaged 7,500 arrests per year over the last five years. But this number has been falling, from 9,700 in 2010 to about 6,500 a year for 2012 through 2014.
When it comes to seizures, though, the statistics show a dramatic and significant change. In 1993, the DEA seized 143,055 kg of marijuana (315.4 million pounds). Seizures increased steadily, year to year, reaching a recent peak of 725, 862 kg in 2010 (1.6 billion pounds). However, since then, the DEA’s pot seizures have fallen drastically every year.
DEA marijuana seizures fell to 576,000 kg in 2011; 388,000 kg in 2012; and 271,000 kg in 2013. The preliminary figure reported for 2014 is that only 74,225 kg of marijuana was seized—although this figure is subject to updating and could be increased.
Nonetheless, DEA marijuana seizures have been falling over the last several years, with 2013 seizures half as much as was seized in 2011.
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