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DEA Annual Report Finds Decline in Smuggling, Teen Use, and Prosecution

December 8, 2016
The Drug Enforcement Administration released its 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary recently, and a few items are catching the eye of cannabis advocates around the country.

Among the observations about the current state of cannabis in America, the report states:

“While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, many states have passed laws allowing the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana within their respective states. Due to these varying state laws, as well as an abundance of media attention surrounding claims of possible medical benefits, the general public has been introduced to contradictory and often inaccurate information regarding the legality and benefits of marijuana use.”

That, the report concludes, “has made enforcement and prosecution for marijuana-related offenses more difficult, especially in states that have approved marijuana legalization.”


New DEA Report Finds Cannabis is Least of America’s Drug Worries

The report indicates that at least one of the results of these state-legal cannabis programs has been a serious reduction in the amount of Mexico-sourced cannabis being seized in the United States. Law enforcement has seen “declines in the overall amount of Mexico-sourced marijuana seized at the SWB” (Southwest border), the DEA reported, noting a 23.6 percent decline in the total weight of cannabis seized along the southern border from 2013 to 2014, and a 3.7 percent decrease from 2014 to 2015. State legalization has also driven “shifts in demand for higher-quality marijuana,” the report notes.

In a section on Drug Trafficking Trends, the report notes that cannabis grown illegally is often diverted to the East Coast and Midwest, where the black market still thrives. Particularly in legal states like Colorado, there have been an abundance of overt growing operations under the guise of working within the established regulations, only to sell the cannabis in black markets to glean a profit.

As former chief of the DEA Financial Crimes Unit, Michael Capasso, put it earlier this year, “As long as other states are still illegal, there will be a demand for black market marijuana.”


Ex-DEA Agent: ‘I See No Downsides to Marijuana Legalization’

The DEA annual report also noted a shift in the perception of cannabis in the eyes of public safety officials. Only 4.9 percent of the report’s respondents considered cannabis their greatest drug threat, which has actually decreased from 6 percent in the same NDTS report in 2015.

Unsurprisingly, the report also outlines rejecting two petitions this year requesting that cannabis be rescheduled, citing the same reason as always:

“Marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, there is a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision, and it has high potential for abuse.”

The report also indicates that the rate of cannabis usage in teenagers has plateaued in the last three years, and is currently at a lower level than it was in 2010, before legalization.


Another Study Shows Cannabis Legalization Does Not Increase Underage Access

The report’s section on cannabis ends with an intriguingly vague, but intentionally open-ended conclusion:

“Domestic use of marijuana will remain high and is likely to increase… Fragmented and developing medical and personal use laws among the states will continue to create uncertainty and increasingly complex issues for the public, law enforcement, banking systems, and medical professionals. Marijuana will remain a part of domestic and international political discussions for the foreseeable future.”

Lead Image: Shane T. McCoy/US Marshals/Office of Public Affairs/Flickr Creative Commons

Lisa Rough's Bio Image

Lisa Rough

Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.

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  • GoWiThaFlo

    Awesome article, Lisa Rough. I thank you profusely for providing such juicy details in every sentence.

  • snow_watcher

    As welcome as this news is, providing further proof that legalization is the way to go, I’m not convinced that the prohibitionists won’t still have their day and double down on keeping cannabis illegal including initiating major Federal crackdowns in states that have legalized.

    Voters be damned.

    • Open Minds

      That’s because Republicans/prohibitionists don’t like real science…



    The D.E.A. and F.D.A. both stand in defiance of Congress and also the Senate as well as the majority of citizens. Because of the misuse and abuse of responsibility and credibility as well as incompetence and refusal to reform the enforcement power of the D.E.A. should be removed and placed back into the hands of the state. A semi-secret elite police force within what is already a police state is way over the top. America does not need this throwback to the cold war era. These Federal offices have become a haven of renegade Authoritarian despots and tyrants commandeering and miss-directing hundreds of millions even billions into their drug war against American citizens and likewise funding state police regimes both within the U.S. and worldwide.It is these federal agency’s that have created the drug problem solely to commandeer funding and as their power base. Well in excess of sixty percent of F.D.A. employees are lured into going to work for the pharmaceutical industry. The D.E.A. is no more than an arm of the pharmaceutical industry. These renegade authoritarians as well as the pro drug war Authoritarians in the F.B.I. need to be controlled or removed

  • Alan479 Martin

    Teen use and smuggling may be declining because the illegalization of cannabis has opened up big money making opportunities for local synthetic addicting dangerous drug labs. If no cannabis is available then they can easily get hooked on local Meth and then all their money will be spent on Meth whereas they could have spent it on cannabis when it became available in their area.