As public opinion, state law, and even federal law enforcers move away from marijuana criminalization, the number of marijuana plants destroyed by the Drug Enforcement Administration has dropped sharply over the past few years. According to recent statistics from the DEA, the agency eradicated 62 percent fewer marijuana plants in 2012 than in 2010, in a drop from 10.3 million plants to 3.9 million. This is the lowest rate of plant destruction in nearly a decade, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Unsurprisingly, the number of arrests coming out of the marijuana eradication program also declined significantly over that period, from 9,700 in 2010 to 6,500 in 2012.
The majority of this decrease has come in California, which grows the most marijuana but was also the largest target of raids. In an analysis of this data, Paul Armentano, deputy director for NORML, points out that this decline may be more about shrinking budgets than about a changed attitude towards marijuana, reasoning that DEA seizures initially surged when Obama took office. Interestingly, the value of the assets seized dropped only slightly from $34 to $32 million during that same period.
No doubt, former DEA officials have been among the most vocal critics of less criminal punishment for marijuana. But there is reason to believe even the agency committed to cracking down on drug crimes may be changing its attitude. While Deputy Attorney General James Cole’s recent memo on a scaled-back approach to marijuana prosecutions applies only to U.S. Attorneys, the Drug Enforcement Administration also reports to the U.S. Attorney General. And a change of policy from the top should affect all of its offices.