White House Report Flags Law Enforcement Concerns About Marijuana Legalization For Congress

White House Report Flags Law Enforcement Concerns About Marijuana Legalization For Congress

A new report sent to Congress by the White House’s drug office spotlights concerns of law enforcement agencies around that country that claim marijuana legalization has not diminished the market for unlicensed cannabis products from illicit sellers.

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s (ONDCP) budget submission to lawmakers for the 2025 Fiscal Year includes analyses from regional High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) programs on the impact of cannabis legalization that largely conflict with a growing body of research showing that launching legal markets does in fact shrink the opportunity for illicit operators.

Advocates have been critical of the reports, arguing that they are intrinsically biased given ONDCP’s statutory mandate to oppose efforts to legalize Schedule I drugs such as cannabis. That said, the regional HIDTA sections do not necessarily reflect where ONDCP or the administration falls on the issue.

This year’s report follows familiar themes as in past years: Marijuana is described as a major threat in states across the country, including those where cannabis has been legalized for medical or adult use.

The Michigan HIDTA section, for example, notes that the state enacted adult-use cannabis legalization in 2018, but despite this, “black market marijuana is still being trafficked and remains a threat.” It also says that marijuana “produced in Michigan is illegally distributed to other states.”

The Nevada HIDTA section says that, as the state’s legal cannabis market has evolved, “resources have been prioritized toward illicit drugs causing significant overdose deaths in the state rather than black market marijuana which is produced in illegal clandestine grows in California and more often indoor grows in the Las Vegas.”

“The black-market marijuana continues to thrive virtually uncontrolled due to criminal justice complications with managing the problem,” it says.

The Ohio HIDTA states that cannabis is “ranked as the fourth greatest drug threat,” and claims that the “legalization of medical marijuana in Ohio has led to an even greater amount of marijuana usage in the region.”

The report for the Northern California HIDTA asserts that illicit marijuana “presents a unique set of threats,” including “violence and illegal weapons associated with outdoor trespass grows on public land and tribal territories; the trading of high-quality marijuana for more life-threatening drugs like fentanyl or methamphetamine (or fentanyl-laced methamphetamine); robberies and burglaries of marijuana dispensaries; labor and sex trafficking associated with marijuana cultivation; the devastating environmental impact of illicit marijuana; and fraudulent marijuana businesses feigning legitimacy under state law.”

“California’s legalization of marijuana for recreational use took effect in 2018, but illicit marijuana grows are widespread, and marijuana cultivators and dealers remain steadfastly undeterred by the law,” it says.

For the Central Valley of California HIDTA, the report lists “unregulated marijuana” among the region’s “most serious drug threats.”

A section for the Oregon-Idaho HIDTA says “Oregon remains a source state for high-quality marijuana and extract products for the nation.”

“Despite state efforts to regulate the legalized marijuana market, black and grey market products originating in Oregon continue to be seized in other parts of the country,” it says. “Marijuana from Oregon continues to negatively affect communities outside of this OI HIDTA region, undermining the legal markets in many states including Oregon.”

Independent drug trafficking organizations in Texas “specialize in the distribution of high-grade marijuana, obtained from United States with legalized forms of marijuana,” another section says.

The Alaska HIDTA section says marijuana and cocaine “pose significant threats and are widely available in the state.” The region “continues to be a significant source of domestically produced illicit marijuana and is often an import destination for illicit marijuana cultivated outside the United States,” it says.

Again, the regional reports don’t necessarily reflect the White House’s position. But ONDCP doesn’t make any attempt to counter the narrative, despite its director’s prior comments recognizing the medical benefits of cannabis and previous role providing consulting services to a cannabis company before joining the administration.

ONDCP did separately mention in the report that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released first-ever guidance on conducting psychedelics research—a development that the office listed as an example of an administrative accomplishment.

Meanwhile, although it’s certainly true that states have not fully eradicated the illicit marijuana market despite the spread of the legalization movement, multiple analyses of enforcement trends have found a gradual decline in illegal cannabis trafficking that advocates say are linked to state-level reform.

For example, recently released data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) found that federal marijuana trafficking cases declined yet again in 2023 as more states enacted legalization.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also released data last year that showed cannabis seizures fell to a record low in Fiscal Year 2022.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also says it made fewer marijuana arrests in 2022, even as the number of cannabis plants eradicated by the agency grew.

In the background of the ONDCP report, the Biden administration has been increasingly leaning into cannabis policy reform ahead of the November elections.

For example, President Joe Biden historically raised his cannabis pardons and scheduling review directive during his State of the Union address this month.

Vice President Kamala Harris also met with cannabis pardon recipients at the White House on Friday to discuss their experiences under the president’s clemency proclamations.

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