A comprehensive report released by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) finds that the illicit marijuana market is increasing in states that have “legalized” the substance; growing operations—that often occur on public lands—present a significant draw on resources and a dramatic threat to local environments; and criminal organizations are using revenue from marijuana production to fund further criminal activity in the country.
“While the proponents of marijuana legalization claim in every state capitol that marijuana commercialization will eradicate the underground market, wresting the profits from the drug out of the hands of criminals and into state coffers, reality has proven this to be categorically false,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former senior drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration. “As this report shows, not only has legalization failed to do away with the underground market, it has only served to make it stronger and more profitable for criminal organizations.”
According to the report:
-Owners of dispensaries have been arrested trafficking large amounts of marijuana to states where the drug has not been “legalized” and have knowingly allowed traffickers to purchase the full legal amount of marijuana numerous times in one day as part of a scheme known as “looping.”
-In the past five years, average THC potency of marijuana flower has increased 35 percent and THC concentrate potency has increased 22 percent.
-Criminal trafficking organizations with “substantial experience, equipment, and resources are able to produce up to 1,800 pounds of marijuana per year for every 100 plants cultivated, earning as much as $5.4 million in that time.”
-Trafficking groups regularly steal electricity from the power grid, driving up rates for legitimate customers and creating fire hazards.
-Large outdoor growing operations present significant negative environmental impacts as millions of acres of public land are at risk of devastation from illegal grows. These operations produce large amounts of waste that endanger natural resources and wildlife.
-In 2018, almost 70 percent of bulk processed marijuana seized during the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program came from California, Alaska, and Oregon.
-Many of the drug trafficking organizations involved in large scale marijuana grows 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 (H.R. 1595/S. 1200).
In its conclusion, the report states that “Domestic production and trafficking of marijuana will likely increase as more states adopt or change current marijuana laws to establish medical or recreational marijuana markets, allowing criminals to exploit state legality.”
“It is time to put to rest the claims that legalization is the cure to the underground market,” continued Dr. Sabet. “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.”