Cannabis Eradication: Self-Evaluation by the DEA

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The DEA thinks that if they go out and seize millions of marijuana plants, they’re doing a good job. Every year the program is a success, often because their self-created indicators have gone up – more plants, more grow rooms, more seizures, etc. For example:

“The increase in the number of plots and plants eradicated during 1985 is attributable to an increase in eradication efforts (manpower/financial) and refined reporting procedures as well an increase in public awareness and public participation in the overall drug abuse prevention program.”(123)

At this time the NDEPB was warning of the dangers in getting caught up in too zealous of a prosecution policy, a warning that was to be ignored. “The systematic destruction of illegal plots requires an extensive commitment of manpower, which cannot be siphoned off by futile attempts to determine the ownership of each plot.”(124) They provided a 20 point prescription for greater program success:

“1) look for large organizations

2) target significant states

3) keep 50 state program

4) make the locals get the ditchweed

5) upgrade intelligence

6) increase aviation

7) states should pick up surplus DOD equipment

8) encourage states to use more small aircrafts

9) encourage growers to inform on patch pirates and violent growers

10) enhance prosecutions

11) increase penalties for cultivation over 100 plants

12) exempt from liability from loaned DOD equipment unless grossly negligent

13) DEA staff get less brownie points for cannabis eradication- change that

14) standardize sentencing

15) improve inter-agency cooperation

16) expand training program

17) prevent leaks like the Delta 9 leaks in 8/85

18) build public support with PR

19) invite foreign media to view eradication efforts

20) use herbicides, if they can”(125)

The DEA incorporated most of these points into their activities in subsequent years, except they zealously continued increasing prosecutions and asset forfeiture. They still measured success by increasing indicators, such as:

“In 1987 we had an increase . . . in the number of sinsemilla plants that were destroyed . . .in the number of cultivated plants eradicated. . . (and) in the total number of arrests, greenhouses operations, weapons and assets seized. . . . The overall 1987 Domestic Eradication Program was a great success. In 1988 we will strive for increased follow-up investigations and to increase the value of assets seized.”(126)

While the DEA portrays their work with a sense of pride and accomplishment, every now and then they publish comments that indicate the enormity of the task before the cannabis eradication program and the inadequacy of their efforts. For example: “Also there were not enough resources available to eradicate all the marijuana plants that were located.” (127) In 1988 they admitted that “more fields were located through citizen complaints than by random aerial searches,”(128) bringing into question the cost effectiveness of aerial searches, despite the strategic reliance on helicopter and fixed wing flights.

The DEA has continually had problems with the physical eradication of discovered marijuana.

“The manpower required to accomplish the physical destruction of cannabis plots continues to hamper DEA’s eradication efforts. The expansion of intelligence gathering and labor-intensive eradication efforts are essential for minimizing the availability of domestically grown cannabis.”(129)

By the late 1980’s legal challenges to herbicide use had been exhausted, though the litigation had established stringent rules and regulations for herbicide use. In many respects, the desire to use herbicides in the U.S. was driven as much by foreign policy considerations as by addressing the DEA’s manpower problems.

“Foreign countries have turned to the United States for leadership in narcotic and drug enforcement because of its support for herbicidal eradication of opium and cannabis in source countries throughout the world. The United States resolve is to employ these same eradication techniques, which have been questionable to some against domestic produced marijuana. During the past year the traditional manual eradication of cannabis was supplemented with an ambitious herbicidal spray operation in Hawaii. These techniques should send a strong message to cannabis producing countries.”(130)

Despite the use of forfeiture, mandatory/minimums, herbicides, and the use the National Guard and other federal agencies, and after over ten years of zealous eradication activity, the DEA is left by 1990 to defending its defining concept rather than its accomplishments.

“It is estimated that about 25 percent of the marijuana consumed in the United States is produced domestically. Adequate effort and resources must be expended to deal with the threat. The concept of this program must be pursued. Continued support from all will ensure a proactive posture in dealing with this illicit phenomenon.”(131)

Nonetheless, “DEA’s goal is to significantly reduce the availability of cannabis in the United States.”(132) In a complete shift from the seizure driven policies of the mid 1980’s, the new forfeiture driven eradication program favors arrests.

“DEA’s suppression policies will require a near-term focus on pursuing the producers, rather than the product. If successful, this policy will change to targeting distribution networks. The emphasis will be to vigorously eliminate organizations by increased arrests and seizures.”(133)

From the DEA’s perspective, no one really understands how important it is to prosecute and incarcerate marijuana cultivators. So, the “DEA will educate Federal and state prosecutors and the judiciary on the importance of deterrence in national and international cases.”(134) They will also “assist domestic demand reduction efforts by raising public awareness about the harmful effects of marijuana use. DEA, in cooperation with the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), will aggressively publicize research findings on the hazards of high-THC products.”(135)

In his 1990 National Drug Strategy William Bennett called the domestic marijuana cultivation situation “intolerable” and called for an increase in funding from $8 million to $16 million in 1990 to wipe it out. He claimed that success against domestic cultivation “should be a bench mark of national anti-drug resolve.” (136) The DEA was able to triple their funding of local eradication efforts in 1991 and 1992, with no appreciable increase in the number of seizures either year.(137)

Despite all the problems detailed above, and the need to involve so many other agencies and resources over the years, the DEA has always maintained that it seized a large percentage of the marijuana grown in the United States. “Officially, the DEA maintains it eradicated half the U.S. crop, although privately law enforcers say they snagged only 10 to 40 percent of the total.”(138) A California based DEA agent claims that outdoor growing in the state has been reduced by 3/4.(139)

Kentucky state police believe they seize no more than half of the marijuana grown in the state, and they have the most aggressive campaign in the country after Hawaii’s.(140)

Statistically speaking, if one of the most aggressive programs only seizes half of the cultivated marijuana, it is impossible for the entire program to seize half of the country’s production. Cultivation is too diffuse to average 50% in every eradication program, and few states will boast of eradicating that much of the marijuana crop. Perhaps it is for this reason that the DEA claims they aim to get 70% of the Tennessee marijuana crop annually, and that it is the fourth most successful in the country.(141)

Regardless of the DEA’s success rate, or lack thereof, “Domestically grown marijuana accounted for 10% of all marijuana in 1980 this has increased to 25% in 1992, with a production estimate of 4500 – 5300 metric tons. “(142)

Under these circumstances, with no end in sight, the DEA still maintains that:

“the program is working. We are doing a measurable good job in most of the states. With continued dedication, next year we can plan to strike even harder and keep even more of the marijuana from reaching the market.”(143)