DEA Data Show Kentucky Has Highest Rate of Illicit Marijuana Plants in US

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An illegal marijuana grow site in Eagle County, Colorado
Source: Thomas Hendrick, “1,000 Marijuana Plants Found at Eagle County Grow Site,”, Oct. 7, 2014

Kentucky, where both recreational and medical marijuana are illegal, grows more illicit marijuana plants per 100,000 people than any other state, according to DEA data analyzed by American Addiction Centers. In 2018, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) eradicated 418,076 cannabis plants in Kentucky, about 9,356 plants per 100,000 people.

California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and recreational marijuana in 2016, came in second place with 4,572 illegal cannabis plants per 100,000 people. The DEA confiscated over 1.8 million marijuana plants in the state last year.

Massachusetts and Wyoming tied for last place with zero cultivated plants seized by the DEA in 2018. Wyoming has not legalized marijuana, but Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana in 2012 and adult-use (also called recreational) cannabis in 2016.

Across the United States, the DEA seized 2.82 million cannabis plants in 2018, down from 3.38 million plants in 2017.

Kentucky also earned first place in the number of destroyed illegal grow sites in the country. 15 grow sites per 100,000 people were destroyed in Kentucky, more than double the next-highest state, West Virginia (7.4 per 100,000 people). West Virginia legalized medical marijuana in 2017 but has not legalized recreational use.

Delaware, DC, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming all had zero grow sites destroyed per 100,000 people. Except Wyoming, each of those states and DC have legalized medical marijuana, and 3 states and DC have legalized recreational use: Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

Despite not having any plants seized, Wyoming bulk-processed the most marijuana at 1,095 pounds per 100,000 people, 46.8% more than the next highest state, Arizona, which had 746 pounds per 100,000 people. Arizona legalized medical marijuana in 2010. American Addiction Centers theorized that the marijuana being bulk-processed in Wyoming might come from nearby states that have legalized marijuana, such as Colorado.

Delaware, DC, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Vermont bulk-process the least amount of marijuana (0 pounds per 100,000 people). Among those states, only South Dakota and Tennessee have not legalized marijuana for medical use. Three of those states and DC also have recreational marijuana: Illinois, Maine, and Vermont.

The DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program seized $52,308,982 in assets related to illicit cannabis plants last year.

33 states and DC have legal medical marijuana, and 11 states and DC have legal recreational marijuana.

Read what the 2020 candidates think about recreational marijuana legalization on our 2020 election site.

Discussion Questions – Things to Think About
1. Analyzing the numbers above, do you think states should legalize marijuana for medical and/or recreational use? Why or why not?

2. Do you think the federal government should legalize medical and/or recreational marijuana? Why or why not?

3. Which 2020 candidate do you agree with most about legalizing recreational marijuana? Consider the specifics of their stances in addition to whether they are pro, con, or not clearly pro or con. Explain your answer.


American Addiction Centers, “A Look at Marijuana Busts across the U.S.,” (accessed Nov. 11, 2019)

Paul Armentano, “DEA Report: Fewer Marijuana Seizures, but More Arrests in 2018,”, July 16, 2019

Justine Coleman, “Number of Illegal Cultivation Sites Plummet in Nevada after Marijuana Legalization,”, Oct. 28, 2019

Drug Enforcement Administration, “2018 Final Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Statistical Report,” (accessed Nov. 11, 2019)

Drug Enforcement Administration, “2017 Final Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program Statistical Report,” (accessed Nov. 11, 2019)

Mark Hernandez, “With Marijuana Cultivation Legal, Arrest Numbers for Illegal Growing Have Dropped,”, Oct. 28, 2019