The war on drugs has been an absolute debacle, fueled by failed policies that launched a mass incarceration epidemic. To add insult to injury, a new report released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) reveals that the agency spent $18 million on its marijuana eradication program last year, destroying around 16,000 cannabis plants in the process.
The domestic cannabis eradication program provides funding to 128 state and local law enforcement agencies to stop aggressively the spread of illegal cannabis grown in the country. The program was funded by the Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund, which is itself a controversial program.
In some states, money from the program is used to fund aerial operations, which consists of helicopters searching for marijuana along the countryside. In other places, poorly trained officers mistake legal plants, such as okra, for marijuana, reports the Washington Post.
While cannabis has been legalized in many states, the program continues to receive funding across the nation. The DEA spends roughly $18 million a year on its marijuana eradication program. According to the program’s website, the initiative arrested 6,310 people in 2014 alone, and confiscated more than $27 million worth of pot.
The program continued to prevail in 2015. Although a group of lawmakers led by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) attempted to pass legislation to use marijuana eradication funds for more practical purposes, like domestic violence prevention programs, these efforts proved unsuccessful. “Marijuana needs to be removed from Schedule I classification, and DEA should stop this wasteful program,” Lieu said in an email with the Washington Post.
The eradication program even continues to thrive in states like Washington and Oregon where marijuana has been legalized for adult recreational use. A DEA spokesman reported that almost 36,000 cannabis plants were destroyed in Washington in 2015, which cost taxpayers nearly $950,000, or about $26 a plant.
The DEA added that at least two states where marijuana is legal, Alaska and Colorado, did not accept federal eradication funds last year. These states orchestrated their own efforts to crack down on marijuana that is grown illegally.
The federal marijuana eradication program is in many respects a relic of when the war on drugs was first waged. In addition to the District of Columbia, four states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and many other states hope to legalize the plant in their neck of the woods this year.
Furthermore, there are an increasing number of doctors, lawyers and laymen that are demanding the federal government loosen marijuana policies. Supporters of legalization argue it would encourage marijuana use, whereas critics note prohibition does not prevent substance abuse, and that cannabis is not as dangerous as other intoxicants like alcohol.
“It makes zero sense for the federal government to continue to spend taxpayer dollars on cannabis eradication at a time when states across the country are looking to legalize marijuana,” Lieu said. “I will continue to fight against DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program in Congress and work to redirect these funds to worthwhile programs.”
Until the federal government legalizes marijuana, the DEA will continue to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars each year confiscating and destroying marijuana plants. Meanwhile, state initiatives are increasing their efforts to defund the DEA’s cannabis eradication program, and to put pressure on Congress and the President to repeal fatuous cannabis laws. In short: It’s time to eradicate the domestic cannabis eradication program.