Last year attorney General Eric Holder Jr. vowed to end federal raids on sellers of medical marijuana. But the feds are leaning on another integral part of the weed business: growers. From 2003 through 2009—a period in which many states liberalized their pot laws—the number of marijuana plants destroyed by the Drug Enforcement Administration almost tripled, from 3.6 million to a record-high 10.4 million (in most of the country, the 2010 crops have only recently been planted). The DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program partners with law enforcement in all 50 states, many of which have expanded once seasonal efforts into year-round affairs. Some agents scan for plants in light planes and helicopters; others kick down greenhouse doors. Earlier this year, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy honored Kentucky for its “Up in Smoke” eradication program.
In the 14 states with legalized medicinal marijuana, licensees are allowed to cultivate a limited number of plants for sale or personal use. But a DEA official, Scott Hoernke, contends that there’s no such thing as a legal grower, so crackdowns occur regardless of state law. The goal, he says, is to bust large-scale traffickers. But activists counter that the feds trample on law-abiding botanists in the process.