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Oct
10
How Many Plants Are Too Many Plants?

How many plants are too many plants?

Op Ed

Marijuana and cannabis cultivation has been on the forefront of pop culture and national news for many years. With the legalization movement gaining headway in the 1990’s for medical marijuana and now recreational in the second decade of the 2000’s, we see marijuana related outlets almost every month; if not multiple times a month. Cultivation of marijuana has always been a point of contention for many lawmakers, law enforcement, and the public. It brings a great number of viewers the silver screen and the 24hr news cycle. For good and for bad.

The Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] has been charged with the control of illegal marijuana cultivation around the United States of America. A federal agency, the DEA employs about 10,000 men and women to enforce our War on Drug national but also internationally. Under the leadership of Special Agent Michele M. Leonhart and a $3 billion budget in 2012, the DEA’s mission is clear. “Enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of United States; Bring to the criminal and civil justice system of the United States, or any other competent jurisdiction, those involved in the illegal growing, manufacture, or distribution of controlled substances that are part of or destined for illicit drug markets in the United States; and, Recommend and support non-enforcement programs aimed at reducing the availability of illicit controlled substances on domestic and international markets.” Administrator Leonhart’s has the responsibility to assist the American people in many capacities. Working unilaterally with other agencies and many other countries, the DEA protects the public from criminal organizations that are involved in various trafficking efforts, causing harm to our neighbourhoods and communities, all the while taking money out the pockets of the American people.

But why is this important? What does this have to do with Medical Marijuana? Up until 2010 the United States government had been very weary of the marijuana market. The DEA raided many many medical marijuana dispensaries in the early 2000’s. President Obama released a statement of neutrality on the situation. According to the WhiteHouse.gov website, the Obama administration is steadfast against legalization of marijuana but more importantly drug legalization overall, due to the obvious ease of access and impending health and safety risks accosiated with taking severe drugs. On the issue of medical marijuana, the Obama administration basically says the jury is still out. President Obama ordered the DOJ and DEA to leave States with decriminalization or legalization laws alone, saying it was a States right issues. But why than is the DEA still raiding marijuana facilities and caregivers across the country?

In 2015, the DEA eradicated a total of 4,257,220 marijuana plants and over 29.7 million dollars in cultivation equipment. This seems on the surface a possible waste of money. But lets widen the picture. In the same year, the DEA took 4,300 deadly weapons from what the agency calls DTO or Drug Trafficking Organizations. This is all thanks to the Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program known as DCE/SP. Since 1985 all 50 states have been a part of this program. So this is a good thing. Right? The DEA is doing what the American people asked. Protect us from criminal organization using marijuana as a form of deviant proliferation. Together working with Central and Southern American allies, the United States has been able to assist is fighting against many cartels and organized criminal groups. The argument stands that we ourselves may have created an organized crime problem with the strict trafficking and War On Drugs laws, but that is an issue for another debate. If you believe the news outlets, these organized criminals are involved in many other illicit activities, not just drug sales but also human trafficking. The DEA has been instrumental in dismantling a main resource for criminal activity, its cash flow.

Now let’s look at the other side of this coin. In that same year, 2015, the DEA spent around $73,000.00 of the now $14 million dollar DCE/SP budget to uncover illegal operations in the State of Utah. According to the Washington Post, this money uncovered zero plants for the agency to eradicate. In New Hampshire, $20,000.00 for 27 plants. In Kentucky, $1.9 million for 570,000 plants. We can see that the program works and the program doesn’t work. We can all agree that dismantling organizations that are not contributing to society via jobs and taxes but also causing harm to communities and people is a good accomplishment. How confident are we that the money is actually trying to accomplish this? I would say not very.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice released a statement that Native American Tribes are allowed to grow and sell marijuana on their lands. They had some rules, the same basic rules that legal marijuana States have to deal with (no crossing state boards, no trafficking, no shipping out of the country, etc). This was great for the Native American people. They have a new source of revenue to assist in expanding their culture and society. Not to mention they don’t have to pay federal taxes on it. The Santee Sioux tribe says it plans to use the profits for new housing, a clinic, and addiction treatment center. The Menominee tribe in Wisconsin, has a little different story. Menominee leaders have been growing cannabis for lawful research to be utilized for fiber, food and oil. Most Native American people know cannabis as hemp. The U.S. classifies hemp its own category of cannabis. Marijuana being the high THC producing variety of cannabis. Hemp being the fibrous variety. The DEA states that hemp is low to no THC producing cannabis plants, however that is not true. Hemp strains of cannabis can produce high levels of THC but is grown for its fiber not its flowers. Federal agents eradicated 30,000 cannabis plants from the Menominee tribes land. That same year, the Pit River Tribe and Alturas Indian Ranchria, both of California, were raided for 12,000 plants. We can only imagine the community devastation caused from taking a large cash crop of potential revenue from the reservations. Seems to be DCE/SP money not being spent well.

Many states where marijuana cultivation is at high levels, receive little to no funding for the DCE/SP program. States like Colorado, where Marijuana is legal is almost all capacities; We see individuals coming into our communities and taking advantage of the legality in Colorado. Without the DCE/SP program, the people of Colorado are free to cultivate marijuana, but it also means that the already understaffed Marijuana Enforcement Division [MED] in Colorado must do the job of the DCE/SP. Currently, the MED issues rules and guidelines for local law enforcement to police their jurisdiction. Leaving the cost of the new marijuana focused police officer on the local police department. We also run into a local governance problem. Because our enforcement division is so focused on the illegal activities, the legal market is left to their own devices which lead to many public issues within itself. The DEA is not paying its fair share to protect the American people because it doesn’t agree with the States right to legalize marijuana. If Colorado had funding for the DCE/SP program, our officers would be free to be more active fighting crime within the our cities.

Currently there is a push in El Paso County, Colorado and Colorado Springs, Colorado to limit the number of plants a residence can have growing. Currently the law states that any citizen of Colorado has 6 plants they can grow in the privacy of their own location. With half the plant count being vegetative plants and the other half being flowering plants. The individual has a limit of 1 oz they can possess at any given time. The proposed changes include limited a residence to 12 plants regardless of medical or recreational status and legally allowed plant count. Medical marijuana users with a state issued registry card can get what the industry calls an extended plant count. Medical marijuana uses often need more than the 2 oz limit that medical marijuana card holds have, compared to the 1 oz recreationally. Many severe patients require more than 2oz to produce the product they use for their ailment or illness. As a result, you can end up with many more than 6 or 12 plants. Some patients have 99 plant count, which translates to 33 oz limit. Caregivers can have up to 6 patients, if each patient has 50 plants, a caregiver could legally grow 300 plants. Given the right environment a single plant can produce upwards of a pound of marijuana. Even a house of four grown adults that are heavy users would have trouble going through this flower in a timely manner. Not to mention that by the time they have gone through the flower, they could harvest at least one if not two more times.

This debate leads to two issues. The DEA and other federal agents raiding legitimate caregivers and a community worried about massive cultivation in their neighborhoods. Naturally community leaders are worried about the effects on the youth population. They are also concerned about the smell in neighborhoods and possible illegal activity. From the 2013/2014/2015 fiscal year, the State of Colorado spent $35,327,304.00 on youth prevention and education programs. This money continues to be spent across the State to help the youth population better understand marijuana. But how can you police legal marijuana uses exercising their right to cultivate and use marijuana without discriminating against marijuana and cannabis users? As we learned, the local police jurisdiction is charged with investigating a possible marijuana illegality and reporting to the MED, who would then get the DEA involved if need be. In many cases, the various enforcement divisions have a hard time police this activity. Local police do not always have the time and resources to track down illegal marijuana activity. Many times, lower income areas and primarily minorities areas are being targeted unfairly. Selling marijuana can be an easy way to pay your bills or support a family of immigrants. But the bigger issue comes when looking at the actual law. The City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County in Colorado have banned the sale of recreational marijuana. Most individuals think that this means recreational marijuana is illegal, this is false. While one cannot legally sell recreational marijuana, the individual (assuming they are a legal Colorado resident) can possess it and grow it and even gift up 1 ounce to anyone over the age of 21. It is their legal right as a citizen of Colorado.

We can see the complexity of this issue. Plant counts, ounce counts, possession, enforcement. A plant count per residence within areas zoned for residential and school/government seems to be going towards the right track. Still allowing caregivers to have a large grow in an area zoned for marijuana cultivation is important for patients and the public. We are still left with the possession problem. An individual would have to try to not produce their ounce limit from a single plant, let alone 6 or 12 or 99 plants. Severe patients needing more than 1 or 2 ounces to create a therapy for their ailment. All the while these plants are grown in houses in quiet neighbourhoods by teachers, parents, local government, military, and more. Last but not least, we have the enforcement problem. How to police for illegal marijuana activity. How do we stop marijuana from crossing state borders? How to stop marijuana from going international? How to stop the profits from this operation from funding criminal organizations? Appropriating tax money to expand the enforcement division and possibly some help from local, state, and federal regulators. But only time will tell if these new enforcement divisions and tax revenues will be able to accomplish a holistic and common sense marijuana enforcement policy. The bad stigma of marijuana is slowly going away but many community leaders are still worried. The federal government has released many statements about the low danger of marijuana use but this is usually not enough to sway the hardline law enforcement and community leaders. One thing is sure, with all this debate around marijuana, we are sure to educate the community for better or for worse.

1)United States of America, Drug Enforcement Agency, Office of Public Affairs. (2012). DEA Fact Sheet.

2) The White House. Retrieved October 7, 2016, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/marijuana

3)By 1985, all 50 states were participating in the DCE/SP..(n.s.). DEA/Cannabis Eradication. Retrieved October 07, 2016, from https://www.dea.gov/ops/cannabis.shtml

4) Ingraham, C.(n.d.). The DEA spent $73,00 to eradicate marijuana plants in Utah. It didn’t find any. Retrieved October 07, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/10/07/the-dea-spent-73000-to-eradicate-marijuana-plants-in-utah-it-didnt-find-any/

5) Fox News. The Associated Press. (2014). Native Americans Allowed to Sell, Grow Marijuana, doj says. Retrieved October 07, 2016, from http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/12/12/native-americans-allowed-to-sell-grow-marijuana-doj-says.html

6) Wood, R.W. (n.d.). Marijuana Goes Native American and Tax Free. Retrived october 07, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2015/10/01/marijuana-goes-native-american-and-tax-free/#4460fb8025f2

7) Nelson, S. (n.d.). DEA Raid on Tribe’s Cannabis Crop Infuriates and Confuses Reformers. Retrieved October 7, 2016, from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/10/26/dea-raid-on-wisconsin-tribes-cannabis-crop-infuriates-and-confuses-reformers

8) Silbuagh, L. (2015). Distribution of Marijuana Tax Revenue (United States of America, Colorado Legislative Council). CO. https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/15-10_distribution_of_marijuana_tax_revenue_issue_brief_1.pdf