DEA Laments Hemp Legalization, Marijuana Reform in Annual Report

The US Drug Enforcement Agency released its annual Drug Threat Assessment this month. In its section on marijuana, the agency says federal legalization of hemp has complicated efforts to combat illegal drug trafficking. Drug cartels, the DEA complains, use hemp — as well and state legal cannabis — as a cover for illegal operations.

State-approved medical marijuana is diverted to the illicit market in several ways. Some individuals and organizations exploit medical marijuana allowances to produce or acquire marijuana or marijuana products. Instead of using what they purchase or grow, they sell some or all of it, often in markets where marijuana is not legal at the state level, thus increasing their profit. Additionally, some marijuana produced by state-licensed growers is diverted and sold illicitly rather than through state-licensed retailers...

The 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp production at the federal level has further challenged law enforcement, particularly in states that legalized marijuana. For example, investigations in some states in which marijuana production is legal under state law have revealed a significant number of hemp businesses and grow operations that are owned and operated by members of DTOs illegally producing and trafficking marijuana. According to law enforcement officials, traffickers use their state- issued hemp documentation as cover for large- scale marijuana grows and marijuana loads transported across state lines. Additionally, large hemp grows are sometimes used to hide marijuana plants interspersed throughout the hemp plants.

The DEA has a long history of opposing cannabis reform efforts, as well as the expansion of industrial hemp. Its position, while disappointing, is nothing new. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) and RE Botanicals were forced to sue the agency last year over an interim final rule on hemp extracts that plaintiffs said would have a chilling effect on the hemp and CBD industry.