According to new data from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), there was a 42 percent increase in marijuana plant seizures from illegal grows in 2019 over the previous year with more than four million plants being seized. Of the plants seized, nearly 3.2 million were seized in California, where marijuana has been legal since 2016.
“Data such as this, and a report previously released by the DEA earlier this year, prove that legalization has been a boon for drug trafficking organizations such as criminal cartels,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “Organizations promoting marijuana legalization at the state and federal level push the narrative that legalization eradicates the illicit market, real-life data from every legalized state proves otherwise. What’s more, these large-scale grows and the illegal ‘pop-up” stores that are fueled by them put an incredible burden on already thin law enforcement resources. Never again should a lawmaker take this claim at face value.”
California has proven to be the largest example of how marijuana legalization has failed to tame the illicit market. In 2018, federal agents exposed a massive drug trafficking ring in California tied to a foreign crime syndicate that was setting up elaborate indoor growing operations in Sacramento subdivisions and staffing the grows with indentured servitude. Furthermore, California Governor Gavin Newsom has resorted to sending in the National Guard to help snuff out an explosion of illegal growing operations in the state’s infamous “Emerald Triangle,” where marijuana has been grown en masse for decades. The state has even resorted to spending $1.7 million on a public awareness campaign aimed at urging people to only purchase marijuana at state-licensed storefronts.
According to a report released late January, many drug trafficking organizations involved in large-scale marijuana grows such as the ones being targeted by the DEA were also found to be involved in other criminal activity including financial fraud, international money laundering, and the trafficking of other illicit drugs, such as opioids. This would have implications for the integrity of our financial system as marijuana enterprises are seeking access to the federal banking system through federal legislation like the SAFE Banking Act.
Notably, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly been considering including language offering the marijuana industry access to the federal financial system in the next round of federal COVID-19 aid.
“Legalization has resulted in almost none of the promises of its proponents and instead has delivered a host of harms upon communities, the general public, and the environment that we will be unfortunately dealing with for years to come,” continued Dr. Sabet. “We must continue to encourage the efforts of federal and state law enforcement on this front.”