Ask Our Experts: DEA Eradication/Suppression Program


Q: As more states adopt cannabis legalization, what has come of the DEA’s federal enforcement efforts?

A: According to the DEA’s own latest figures, the changing landscapes for cultivation and illicit activities have shown some seemingly paradoxical results.

Data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP) annual update shows continued contraction of the agency’s cannabis-eradication efforts in 2019 and reveals significant changes in their outcomes.

Both the number of sites targeted for eradication and the number of plants eradicated have fallen steeply since 2009 (by 79% and 62%, respectively), reflecting dramatic expansion of medical and adult-use legalization over the past 11 years.

However, as plant eradication has fallen, seizures of processed cannabis have grown nearly six-fold (574%), reflecting increased interdiction of finished cannabis products destined for states where cannabis remains illegal. Further, as demand for cannabis concentrates and extracts has surged across both legal and unregulated markets, and with concentrates holding their prices better than flower in cost-competitive markets, production and demand for concentrates is likely to increase steadily to meet the growing consumer demand in both legal and unregulated markets.

Nearly 75,000 people have been arrested by the DEA’s suppression activities since 2009, but the annual number of arrests has fallen by more than half (>53%), from over 10,000 in 2009 to 4,700 in 2019.

The agency’s suppression efforts have been primarily focused on a small number of western and southern states. California and Kentucky have led in the number of indoor and outdoor sites targeted. However, since 2009 California has accounted for more than half of the total plants eradicated (68%) and the processed product seized (59%), suggesting far larger operations in the nation’s largest state.

Of the nearly $400 million seized by the program since 2009, three states – California, Florida, and Washington – accounted for nearly half of it.

The 11-year trend data highlights continued tension between convergent forces, including conflicting federal and state laws, rising usage rates across the U.S., and displacement of illicit Mexican cannabis (smuggling of which has decreased sharply in recent years) with domestically produced cannabis.

With key states likely to pass adult-use measures in the next two or three years (expectedly in New York, New Jersey, Arizona, and Florida), demand for illicit cannabis in those markets is expected to decline steeply as the markets mature. As such, the downward trend in the DEA’s DCE/SP efforts will likely continue, as both more consumers transition to the legal market, and as Congress advances protections against federal intervention in legal, regulated markets.