After a dip during the peak of the pandemic in 2020, federal law enforcement agents and their partners arrested 25% more people for cannabis-related crimes in 2021, during the first year of the Biden Administration.
But while a post-pandemic bump in arrests would have been fair to expect, the biggest jump in cannabis arrests in a decade was not. The nation’s oldest cannabis reform organization NORML noted the 6,606 marijuana-related arrests in 2021 represented the most since the 8,500 arrested in 2011.
This followed Joe Biden’s February 2021 promise he would pursue decriminalization and mass expungements for people with prior cannabis convictions. A month after that promise, word got out that some staff may have been a little too honest with Joe about their past marijuana use, dozens of young White House staffers were asked to resign. So the hopes of cannabis policy reformers were squashed quickly, but the new soaring arrest numbers are certainly salt in the wound.
2021 saw a similar bump in the amount of plants destroyed by the feds and partners, via the domestic eradication program. The 5.53 million cannabis plants destroyed represented 20% more plants than the previous year.
California saw the most enforcement as usual. A total of 86% of plant seizures and 60% of arrests conducted by federal authorities happened in the Golden State.
NORML called the major jump across both categories troubling.
“At a time when the overwhelming majority of voters support legalization, and when more and more states — and even members of Congress — are moving toward this direction, it is troubling to see federal agents and their local partners reversing course and reinvigorating their marijuana-related enforcement activities,” said NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano.
Another subject covered by the organization is the amount the increase in enforcement is costing Americans, when so many are suffering from the biggest rise in inflation in decades and wondering how they’ll afford to fill up at the pump. Coincidently, the state that saw the most enforcement also has the highest gas prices in the country.
“The fact that these interdiction efforts are growing — at great cost to the taxpayer — despite increasing momentum for legalization is a testament to the failure of federal prohibition and unnecessarily burdensome state regulatory policies,” said NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox.
Fox also noted that if there was a fair playing field for operators to work in, the people this enforcement is happening to may already have made the jump to the regulated market.
“Lack of access to banking services and capital, high barriers to entry into legal cannabis markets, and exorbitant tax rates at all levels of government are clearly hampering the ability of licensed cannabis businesses to compete with the unregulated market,” Fox said. “The solutions to this situation are beyond obvious at this point, and they don’t involve law enforcement officers putting themselves at risk by dropping out of helicopters or conducting armed raids.”
Fox wants congress to pursue evidenced-based, market-oriented, and justice-focused policies. He believes this is the real policy move, if officials want to make a dent in the ever-booming underground market, now bigger than ever on both sides of the country.