Newly released data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) appears to show that legalizing marijuana does what advocates have long promised: It reduces the unregulated cannabis market and cuts law enforcement costs.
The DEA allocated exactly zero dollars and zero cents for marijuana eradication in Colorado for Fiscal Year 2016, which is down from the agency’s $80,000 budget line item for the state during Fiscal Year 2014. That’s according to documents released this month in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from journalist Drew Atkins. Colorado voters enacted a marijuana legalization measure in November 2012, and legal sales went into effect in the state on January 1, 2014.
While Washington State voted to legalize cannabis on the same day in 2012, legal sales there didn’t start until July 2014. But DEA marijuana eradication spending is already down in that state, too, according to the new data. The federal agency spent $1,050,000 chopping down marijuana plants in FY2014 and $950,000 the next year. But for the current fiscal year, only $760,000 is allocated in the budget.
In Oregon, where voters approved legalization in November 2014 and legal sales began about a year later, DEA anti-marijuana spending is down from $1,000,000 in FY2014 to just $200,000 in FY2016. DEA allocated nothing for marijuana eradication for any of the past three fiscal years in Alaska, which also voted to legalize in 2014.
While the state reductions can’t be directly attributed to the end of cannabis prohibition — some non-legal states have dipped too, while others have increased — the data undermines a common talking point from opponents of legalization who argue that the new laws actually make it easier for drug cartels and gangs to set up shop and undercut the regulated and taxed legal market.
If that were true, one would expect to see federal agencies putting even more emphasis into those states. But the new data shows that in every state that has so far implemented a legal market for marijuana, DEA spending on cannabis eradication is down.
This year, voters in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada will get a chance to legalize marijuana via questions on their November ballots.
Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.