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With marijuana cultivation legal, arrest numbers for illegal growing have dropped

Mark Hernandez
Mark Hernandez
A hand holding a clear jar with marijuana in the bottom

Since marijuana sales have been legalized in Nevada, the illegal cultivation sites that have been destroyed has fallen from more than 150 in 2012 to 20 in 2018, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Nevada is one of 12 states and the District of Columbia where recreational marijuana has been legalized yet there is still illegal cultivation — the DEA reported 0.37 arrests per 100,000 Nevada residents in 2018. Other states where marijuana remains illegal to cultivate have the highest growing-related arrests, with Wyoming in first place at a rate of 21 per 100,000 people.   

“While I can’t comment on opinion-based inquiries, I can certainly tell you that marijuana continues to be a Scheduled I drug/substance and the DEA’s mission is to enforce the controlled substances laws and regulations of the U.S.,” a DEA spokesperson said when asked if there is a link between a state legalizing marijuana and the rate of illegal cultivation.

A report compiled by the American Addiction Centers, the largest U.S. network of rehabilitation facilities, analyzed DEA data on marijuana cultivation, arrests for growing, and eradicated growth sites. The numbers also show that states with more illegally cultivated marijuana grows have a higher number of marijuana-related arrests.

NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, cited another federally funded report by the nonprofit Justice Research and Statistics Association to support its pro-legalization stance. The report released in July analyzed the impact of marijuana legalization and decriminalization on criminal justice resources and found that legalization led to fewer marijuana-related arrests and court cases. 

"This federally funded report is further evidence that legalizing and regulating marijuana works largely as intended,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a news release responding to the report. “It reduces arrests, and it does not lead to increased youth use or a rise in serious crime, and with these latest findings, it is clear that these policies are not adversely impacting bordering states.”

Another trend in the DEA’s report is that more illegal cultivation takes place in states where marijuana has not been legalized. Kentucky is in first place with over 9,300 cultivated marijuana plants per 100,000 people. Other states where marijuana is illegal to have some of the highest incidences of the DEA finding marijuana stored and ready for use. 

Recreational marijuana use became legal in Nevada on January 1, 2017, and according to the report, the DEA found small quantities of illegally processed marijuana in Nevada — less than 3 pounds per 100,000 people. This is dwarfed by the almost 1,100 pounds per 100,000 people in Wyoming, where marijuana is fully illegal.

Nevada is five times more populous than Wyoming with 3 million people as of 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.


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