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For decades, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and its predecessor, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, have devoted special resources to stamping out marijuana use. Cannabis is the plant that fuels the “war on drugs.”

Rolling Marijuana JointBut new statistics show the DEA is losing that war, badly. Not only do many Americans toke – 33 million each year, more than 10 percent – but marijuana is incredibly easy to find. According to the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 60 percent of Americans say cannabis is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain.

By comparison, more than 70 percent of American adults use alcohol in any given year. Of course, marijuana is still mostly illegal while alcohol is legal and widely available. Compared to other illicit drugs, cannabis is easily the most popular – and the easiest to buy.

Just how easy depends at least in part on age. The a slight majority of the youngest age group, 12 to 17 years old, said they find it hard to get marijuana, whereas 49 percent said it’s easy to find. That’s a high number for a drug limited to adults, and a legitimate concern for the DEA.

Ineffective DEA tactics

Instead of tackling that problem, though, the federal government continues to raid farms, seize product, and jail retailers. As the new numbers make clear, that policy has had little notable effect over the years.

Even older adults said it’s relatively simple finding cannabis, legal or otherwise. Just shy of 50 percent of the over-50 group said the task is very or fairly easy.

Younger adults, meanwhile, are much better informed about where to obtain marijuana. In the 35 to 49 age group, more than 61 percent said the drug is easy to find, compared to 69 percent in the 26 to 34 age group and 75 percent in the 18 to 25 age group.

Those numbers may be shocking to some, but most cannabis users would find them underwhelming. It’s almost harder not to stumble across the drug these days, so the statistics are actually surprisingly low.

DEA neglected locally grown bud

DEA BadgeThe DEA has done nothing to effectively stem this easy access. The agency’s focus on Mexican brick smugglers, for example, overlooks the fact that the market for locally grown cannabis has exploded in recent years. Brick is no longer appealing to anyone but teenagers, and they clearly don’t have much trouble finding even that.

The DEA is strictly a supply-side police agency. Its goal is to strangle the cultivation, shipment, and sale of drugs banned by the Controlled Substances Act – especially marijuana. Agents are happy to round up low-level patients and users in the process, but there is no effort to provide medical care, addiction treatment, or alternatives to drug use.

In other words, the DEA doesn’t much care about the demand side of the equation. That’s a big mistake: The best way to address underage drug use of any kind is education. Marijuana may not be especially harmful to adults, but it isn’t especially good for kids, either, and most adolescents are smart enough to avoid it until they’re adults.

To be fair, the agency has been backing off on criminal enforcement, at least in terms of raw numbers. Agents arrested more than 9,000 people five years ago, yet the numbers quickly dropped to less than 7,000 per year. Marijuana seizures have also dropped in size, from more than 700,000 kilos in 2010 to roughly 270,000 in 2013 – and even less in 2014.

What all this means is that nearly 80 years of drug war strategy have provably failed, a fact even the federal government is starting to realize. Meanwhile, the DEA has done little to keep children away from marijuana, and it doesn’t seem to have any solutions up its sleeve.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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