A bipartisan group of members of Congress is pushing a government watchdog agency to investigate the effectiveness of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) program aimed at chopping down marijuana plants.
“Over half the states have now legalized marijuana in some form, yet the DEA continues to funnel millions of tax dollars every year into marijuana eradication,” eight U.S. House members wrote in a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Tuesday. “As Congress evaluates how to allocate government funds over the next fiscal year, it is critical that we have an accurate picture of what the DEA’s [cannabis eradication] funds are being spent on, where, and how effectively.”
The lawmakers were spurred to make the inquiry by recently released records showing how much DEA has spent eradicating marijuana plants in each state over the past three fiscal years.
They want GAO, which is charged with investigating federal agencies and programs on behalf of Congress, to conduct a study on how DEA measures success of the program and how much it spends per plant eradicated, among other data points.
A Marijuana.com analysis of the records, released last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from journalist Drew Atkins, seemed to find that legalizing marijuana does what advocates have long promised: It reduces the unregulated cannabis market and cuts law enforcement costs.
For example, 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. 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 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.
But the documents also showed that DEA is spending thousands of dollars on the program in some states where agents didn’t cut down any marijuana plants.
“The state of Utah, for instance, received $73,000 in taxpayer money but did not find a single marijuana plant to eradicate,” the lawmakers wrote in the new letter to GAO.
Signing on are Reps. Ted W. Lieu (D-CA), Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Jared Polis (D-CO), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Michael Honda (D-CA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Sam Farr (D-CA).
Lieu and others introduced legislation last year to eliminate the DEA’s marijuana eradication program. That bill hasn’t yet received a hearing or a vote, but a separate amendment Lieu sponsored to slash the program’s funding in half and redirect the money to victims of violence against women and child abuse was approved by the House and attached to the spending bill that covers the U.S. Department of Justice.