The federal criminalization of cannabis, a policy initiated in 1937 with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act and one that continues today due to the plant’s schedule I prohibited classification under the US Controlled Substances Act of 1970, has done nothing to curb pot’s availability nationwide. So concedes the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in its 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, released this month. The report summarizes information provided to the DEA by more than 1,300 state and local law enforcement agencies.
Despite more than 75 years of federal prohibition, “Marijuana is the most widely available and commonly abused illicit drug in the United States,” the nation’s top anti-drug agency admits. “According to the 2013 NDTS, 88.2 percent of responding agencies reported that marijuana availability was high in their jurisdictions.” (By comparison, only ten percent of agencies surveyed reported high levels of availability of MDMA.)
As if the plant’s high level of availability in nearly 90 percent of more than 1,300 responding jurisdictions wasn’t enough of an indictment of the prohibition’s failure to curb drug demand and supply, the DEA also acknowledged that it expects the public to have even greater access to pot in the near future. “Marijuana availability appears to be increasing,” the agency acknowledges, citing increasing domestic plant production and rising public demand for pot. The average potency of THC in the plant is also increasing, admits the agency, rising from 8 percent in 2009 to nearly 12 percent in 2011.
Looking toward the future, the DEA admits that present trends are likely to continue unabated. “[C]riminal groups will increasingly exploit the opportunities for marijuana cultivation and trafficking,” the DEA concludes, alleging (rather inexplicably) that the increasing number of states allowing for legal, state-licensed cannabis production and sales will provide greater opportunities for illegal pot production. (Self evidently, the DEA still continues to believe that all marijuana-related activity, including activity that is state sanctioned, is inherently criminal.) It adds, “Marijuana abuse levels will increase over the next decade, particularly if its use continues to be increasingly accepted by adolescents.”
The DEA’s full summary is available online here: National Drug Threat Assessment Summary
Notably, the report acknowledges that similar increases in illicit drug demand and availability are occurring for virtually all controlled substances, despite decades of drug war enforcement. “The availability of heroin continued to increase in 2012,” the agency states. As for methamphetamine, “[P]rices decreased more than 70 percent between the third quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2012,” the DEA acknowledged. “[D]uring that time methamphetamine purity increased almost 130 percent.” The agency also admits that in recent years there has been an increase in the availability of synthetic designer drugs, so-called bath salts, and in the production of selective cannabinoid agonists (aka ‘synthetic pot’).
In other words, the DEA hasn’t just admittedly lost the battle on pot; they’ve lost the war. When will a majority of those in Washington, DC admit likewise?
Paul Armentano is deputy director of NORML.