WASHINGTON – A California lawmaker is pushing to get rid of the Drug Enforcement Administration's pot eradication program, arguing it's fiscally irresponsible to spend millions burning up marijuana plants at a time when several states are legalizing the drug.
Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat, proposed an amendment to a fiscal 2016 spending bill that would cut the DEA's $18 million budget for the program in half. It would redirect $9 million to fund programs that help children who are victims of domestic and sexual abuse.
“Next year, I will bring another amendment to eliminate the program completely,” Lieu said in a written statement.
He's pushing the measure as a growing number of states legalize the drug, for recreational or medical purposes. Even Washington, D.C., has approved legalization, though this has caused friction with the District's congressional overseers.
Yet marijuana remains illegal under federal law -- and while the Obama administration has not interfered with states allowing it, the DEA continues to pursue users and dealers elsewhere.
In 2014 alone, the DEA arrested 6,310 people under its cannabis eradication program, which also gets seed money from the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Fund. The DEA sends money to state and local law enforcement agencies that use it to destroy indoor and outdoor pot plants.
According to DEA records, 4.3 million marijuana plants were destroyed last year, down from 4.4 million in 2013 and 10.4 million in 2009.
Republican political analyst Ron Bonjean told Fox News’ “Strategy Room” it doesn’t make sense to spend millions on the program. “I think the DEA’s budget is going to be cut severely,” he said, adding that it would be a tough sell for the DEA to justify going after and destroying marijuana plants when they’re not enforcing the law themselves in several states where it’s legal.
“This is a ridiculous waste of precious federal resources, especially when multiple states and jurisdictions have already legalized marijuana,” Lieu said. “It is time for the federal government to stop making marijuana use or possession a federal crime.”
Currently, marijuana – whether for medicinal purposes or recreational use – is legal in some form in 38 states. The federal government is prioritizing more serious drug threats like heroin. But while government priorities may have changed, DEA spokesman Matthew Barden told FoxNews.com that possessing, growing or distributing marijuana can still get you in trouble on a federal level.
“It’s still a violation of public law and until Congress or the law is changed, it’s still going to be a violation of the law,” Barden said.
Keith Stroup, founder and legal counsel for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), an advocacy group pushing for marijuana legalization, backs the Lieu proposal.
“It’s a good move because it saves money that is being absolutely wasted at this point,” he told FoxNews.com. “The federal government needs to stand back and let states experiment.”
The issue has also worked its way into the 2016 presidential race.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie recently said that if he were president, he’d outlaw recreational marijuana -- even in states that voted to legalize it.
Christie, standing outside a drug treatment center, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” he would enforce federal drug laws in Washington and Colorado – two states where recreational use is legal.
Retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson also told ABC News that legalization “should be completely off the table.”
He told Fox News that it was a gateway or starter drug but added that medical uses of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly “has been proven to be useful.”
Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton has said there is a medical value in marijuana and wants to see states craft their own laws.
If Lieu’s amendment becomes part of the final appropriations bill that must be passed by both chambers of Congress, it would redirect the $9 million to three programs: including $4 million to the Violence Against Women Act Youth Oriented Program; and $4 million to the Victims of Child Abuse program.