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Critics question federal pot eradication program

The Drug Enforcement Agency increased marijuana eradication funding in 25 states between 2014 and 2015, according to newly released figures. The increases, revealed this week in response to a citizen FOIA via MuckRock, came in 10 states that have already legalized medicinal marijuana, including Maine, California, Ohio, and Massachusetts.
The DEA increased its allocation in two other states – Florida and Missouri – where voters in November will decide on the medicinal use of pot. Pot advocates in two other states, Michigan and Nevada, have submitted petitions to put legalization measures on the November ballot. Eradication expenditures increased in both of those states last year from 2014.

Several states saw drops in federal funds for getting rid of grow operations and plants, including South Carolina, Utah and Arizona. Allocations also dropped in Oregon and Washington, where pot is legal.

Participation in the DEA eradication program is optional and some states have opted out, relying on local and state funding. Eradication allocation for Colorado and Alaska, where recreational pot is also legal, was zero last year after the states received $80,000 and $70,000, respectively, the year before.
North Dakota, Arkansas, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Wyoming received no allocation for 2014 or 2015.

For several years, the DEA’s eradication budget has stood at $18 million, funded in part by the assets forfeiture fund of the Department of Justice.

Eradication has been marked by controversy, including the revelation in the mid-2000s that much of the marijuana being discovered and destroyed was so-called “ditchweed” or wild growing, uncultivated pot that has no psychoactive ingredient.

Critics have pointed also to the low rate of sites discovered – according to DEA figures, last year there were 4.2 million plants destroyed, compared with 6.7 million in 2011, a 37 percent drop.

In November, a group of 12 Democrats in Congress sent a letter to leadership asking that half the $18 million budget, or $9 million, for eradication be redirected to social programs and deficit reduction.

“There is no justification for spending this kind of money on an antiquated program never shown to be effective,” the lawmakers said. The allocation, though, stood.

The DEA, which did not respond to an interview request, has spent money on eradication since 1979, when it devoted all its resources to California and Hawaii. Within six years, the program expanded to include funding for all states.

Drug policy wonks pro and con are watching daily now for a ruling from the DEA on pot’s lawless status. In an April letter to federal lawmakers, the DEA said it would reconsider the status of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, equal in harm to heroin or LSD, in the first six months of the year.

The reclassification would be a major move in the drug war and dramatically affect funding for law enforcement operations, many of which have fought to keep marijuana prohibition alive while also vying for lucrative grants to do so. It would also most likely prompt Congress to address the funding of the eradication allocation.