SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – 2021 saw a major increase in marijuana arrests and plant confiscations in comparison to recent years, according to a DEA report.

The DEA says they are “aggressively striving to halt the spread of cannabis cultivation in the United States.”

Marijuana is the only major drug of abuse grown within the U.S. borders, and the DEA has initiated the “Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program (DCE/SP)” as a result. It is the only nationwide law enforcement program that exclusively targets Drug Trafficking Organizations involved in cannabis cultivation.

The annual report shows that in 2021, the DEA made over 6,500 arrests and confiscated more than 5.5 million marijuana plants. That’s a 32% increase in arrests and a 22% increase in plant confiscations compared to 2020.

These figures comes at a time when marijuana legalization is becoming more and more popular, yet, the DCP/SE is not alone in its fight against the trend. The success of the DCP/SE is “directly attributed to the decision of the participating agencies to share intelligence, technology and manpower,” according to the DEA.

Despite cultivator efforts, the DEA says they and “the cooperating DCE/SP agencies” continue to identify and eliminate cannabis grow sites throughout the U.S.

In defense of its effort to curb cannabis cultivation, the DEA points to certain aspects of the cultivation process as being problematic.

They note one growing trend as “the extraction of THC using various methods such as the Butane method,” saying that the method has seen an increase of grow sites “exploding due to this volatile method of extracting THC.”

Another point the agency makes is the use of hydroponics, or, growing plants in a nutrient laden solution rather than conventional soil, as well as other technological advances, as tools for increasing the potency of the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

They say that in many areas of the U.S., growers have abandoned large outdoor cannabis plots in favor of “smaller, better concealed illicit gardens.”

According to the DEA, they seized 743,920 pounds of marijuana in 2021, nearly three times more than the 265,196 pounds seized in 2020.