The domestic cannabis eradication suppression program has
been used by the federal government to usurp state criminal
justice systems. In 1983, it was rare to make a federal case
out of a marijuana cultivation incident.
"Almost all the arrests were prosecuted at the state
level with the exception of eight cases, which due to the
size of the cultivation or significance of violator, were
prosecuted in federal court. . . Of the subjects sentenced,
all but one was sentenced to time in prison, with one individual
receiving an eight year prison term."(84)
By 1984, this had begun to change.
"More cases were prosecuted in the Federal Court system
than reported in previous years. The increase in total prosecutions
at both state/local and Federal levels seems to be attributable
to the increase in the capabilities of state and local agencies
to expend more time in the investigative phases of incidents
The exact same comment is included in the 1985 DEA report.(86)
Interestingly the report dwells on the increase in prosecutions,
not the trend towards federal over state prosecution. The
1986 NDEPB review reports on a local backlash to the DEA program
which had been developing among local residents. The eradication
activity polarized many areas, and drove away business and
tourists. In California, the annual eradication program "is
viewed by many residents as an annual trauma."(87)
The report noted that 23% of the public favored legalizing
marijuana, and that the public generally frowns on locking
up marijuana users. It was believed that the general public
held that cocaine presented a more serious problem than marijuana,
and that the courts were too crowded to handle marijuana cases.
"Most respondents believed that if the federal government
withdrew its support, state and local operations would shrink
to token levels."(88)
The report describes some of the unintended results of
eradication activity. For example: "In a bizarre case in Hawaii,
the . . . helicopter flew so close to a rabbit farm that the
noise caused a panic and fighting among its inhabitants. More
than 7000 bunnies died in this incident."(89) Another problem
is that the heavy-handed nature of their paramilitary operations
created bad press and damaging political fallout. "CAMP [the
California program] has unintentionally increased the visibility
of pro-legalization arguments and their sponsors because of
the extended debate over costs and tactics."(90)
This review of cannabis eradication efforts listed four
reasons why they haven't worked:
1) Law enforcement agencies feud and compete.
2) They aren't being hard enough on offenders. Although
the Program is frequently referred to as the 'Eradication'
Program, the word 'Suppression' in the title is of equal importance.
The goal of the program is to deter the cultivation of cannabis
in the United States.
3) Sentences are too light, there is a lack of federal
prosecutions, and light sentences are doled out in local prosecutions.
4) "Anti-federal sentiment is often high in rural southern
and western states. Since many communities consider growers
an economic benefit to the area, there is little enthusiasm
Furthermore, the report argues, it is unrealistic to
pursue full enforcement of marijuana cultivation laws.
"The limits of law enforcement are set by practical realities
and public support. It is simply not feasible to investigate
and establish the ownership of the 40,000 plots eradicated
last year. Seizing eight houses on a block of ten for growing
a few plants in the backyard is feasible but imprudent. Federal
drug efforts must remain sensitive to public opinion. Pro-drug
organizations have demonstrated their ability to use the media
and would certainly exploit efforts that might appear disproportionate
to the situation. Effective law enforcement in any area requires
the good will of the people."(92)
The DEA, though, remained insensitive to public opinion
and proceeded full steam ahead with prosecutions and property
seizures. In 1988 the DEA began to advocate stiffer sentences
for marijuana cultivation.
"The overall 1988 Domestic Eradication Program was a
success. In 1989, the program will strive for increased follow-up
investigations and increased asset seizures. Additionally,
DEA will strive for an increase in federal prosecutions of
cultivators under the new federal minimum mandatory sentence
The DEA had come to the conclusion that they weren't
going to get convictions or deterrent sentences in state and
"Most arrests and prosecutions for marijuana cultivation
are at the state and local level. Conviction rates are high
with many growers entering pleas to lesser included charges.
Sentences are usually a term of probation and or fine. A marijuana
grower is more likely to be sentenced to prison if convicted
in Federal Court. Among the states surveyed, prison overcrowding
was consistently mentioned as a reason convicted growers are
not sentenced to jail."(94)
To put it simply, the DEA's position was that this situation
could not be allowed to stand, and that our heritage of local
discretion over law enforcement had to be disregarded, or
their program would grind to a halt.
"The criminal justice system's laxity in dealing with
offenders does not encourage defendants to cooperate with
authorities. Growers are aware that they face a minimal chance
of conviction and incarceration. Fines are viewed as a cost
of doing business. There is no deterrence when the profit
potential exceeds the potential loss. The lack of defendants
cooperating detracts from the intelligence data base regarding
marijuana cultivation activities."(95)
By 1988, the DEA was ready to disregard issues such as
male plants, plant potency, value, and personal use on account
of new legislation passed by Congress. The number of plants
become the sole legal issue for sentencing.
"The Anti-drug Abuse Act of 1988 includes provisions
for mandatory Federal prison sentences, depending on the number
of marijuana plants involved. For one hundred plants or more,
the statute provides for mandatory 5 year prison sentences.
For more than one thousand plants, a mandatory 10 year prison
sentence is provided. The DCE/SP will emphasize Federal prosecution
for cultivation investigations involving 100 plants and more."(96)
1988 also marks another turning point in federal involvement
in the anti-marijuana war. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988
also provided "authority for the Civil Air Patrol to assist
in drug eradication and interdiction. The 1988 Defense Appropriation
Bill gave additional funding to the National Guard and the
Department of Defense for drug eradication and interdiction.
By 1989 the DEA was ready to acknowledge the federalization
of marijuana cultivation offenses as a fait acompli.
"In the past, DEA considered the growing of domestic
marijuana as a state and local law enforcement problem. .
. . A review of the domestic cannabis situation by DEA's Cannabis
Investigations Section (OM) indicated that DEA had to change
its domestic marijuana enforcement policy. It is imperative
that DEA continue to lead a unified state, local and Federal
enforcement effort directed toward the arrest and conviction
of marijuana growers."(98)
By 1990 it was clear that many aspects of the cultivation
issue had not changed since the NDEPB report in 1986.
"In many areas of the country, with depressed economies
and high unemployment, cannabis cultivation has proliferated.
Particularly in rural areas, money from marijuana trafficking
has a significant impact on local economies. Advanced agronomic
techniques, a preference for a more potent seedless marijuana,
a lessened fear of arrest, and high profits have all contributed
toward an increase in cannabis cultivation."(99)
Also by this time the DEA was well into Operation Green
Merchant, in which they seized customer records from various
vendors in order to create investigative leads regarding possible
indoor marijuana cultivation. In 1989 Green Merchant produced
30,000 investigative leads. (100) By 1990 Green Merchant produced
57,000 leads, with no state in the country providing less
than 100 leads.(101) These figures are indicators of just
how widespread indoor marijuana cultivation is, as well as
an indication of how the DEA spends a lot of its time - looking
for small-time indoor marijuana growers.
Despite the history of the program and its obvious failures,
the DEA has maintained every year since 1982 that the program
is a great success. If measured against the goal of acquiring
power and authority for the DEA, the program has been very
successful. According to their 1991 report, the new excuse
for greater police powers will be derived from the entry of
"criminal organizations" into marijuana cultivation.
"The Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program
has been such a success that in 1992, the Cannabis Investigations
Section will again focus on asset seizures as well as intensify
efforts to dismantle and disrupt criminal organizations that
are cultivating marijuana in the United States. Likewise,
efforts will be directed toward increased arrests and Federal
prosecution of cultivators under the Federal minimum mandatory