Put Down the Spliff: Marijuana Farms are Ravaging the Environment

Unregulated pot farming is having disastrous effects on California's natural habitats.
Marijuana like this is cleaned and sent to dispensaries, but not everyone grows it in a way that's safe for the environment. (Photo: Xavier Rossi/Getty Images)
Dec 9, 2012· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

No one wants this kind of news, but here we are. Under-the-radar pot farms in California are having dire consequences on the environment and state law enforcement's hands are tied when it comes to doing anything about it.

But it’s a plant! How can it possibly be bad for the Earth? In and of itself, it’s not. But as an unregulated industry, some of the techniques used are sucking the life out of our waterways, killing our forests and poisoning our soil.

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Though growing pot under California state law is legal, under federal law, it is most certainly not. That’s why growers—usually those with substantial harvests—burrow into the forests to grow their crops under cover from federal agents.

According to OnEarth, massive amounts of rodenticide are used by forest-dwelling farmers in counties like Humboldt and Mendocino. Because those crops can’t be fenced in or otherwise protected from area wildlife, farmers dump large amounts of rodent and pest-killing poisons around the plants to ensure their safety.

Mourad Gabriel, a Northern California wildlife disease ecologist, told OnEarth the effects of those chemicals are already having alarming results on area wildlife populations, the nearby Hoopa reservation, and the forest’s ecosystem.

Gabriel has discovered abandoned grow sites with as much as 90 pounds of rodenticide left behind, which is almost enough to wipe out about 12,000 deer mice, 1,500 wood rats, and other forest creatures. And that’s not even counting what all that chemical waste is doing to nearby waterways, which are already seeing the effects on fish populations crucial to the area.

MotherJones also reports that some farmers are engaging in forest clearing and the illegal diversion of streams.

But perhaps most frustrating is that state agencies are caught in a weird bureaucratic purgatory that’s keeping them from doing anything to regulate these farms.

State agents can’t shut down marijuana farms because they’re not illegal under state law. But they are illegal under federal law. The feds have already warned state policy makers and law enforcement agents that should they do anything to try to regulate the activity of pot-growers, it would be viewed essentially an act of aiding those farmers who are committing a federal offense. Aiding someone committing a federal offense is serious, and California officials report they were already told they would face personal federal prosecution should it be discovered that they were regulating any pot-farming activity.

There is a small avenue of consequence for growers who are caught doing things like altering waterways, but legally, those are only misdemeanors and so serve no real purpose in hindering the activity.

It’s glaringly obvious that the situation needs to be ironed out at both state and federal policy levels. Ecofriendly and responsible marijuana growth does happen, but as long as the practice remains a federal offense, the system remains unencumbered, and those who are destroying our environment in the process continue to run wild.

In the meantime, for the thousands of Californians who frequent medical dispensaries, they’re not without options. Much like how many of us buy our food today, choosing to purchase locally-sourced marijuana which is grown with organic techniques can make all the difference.

Do you think marijuana should be decriminalized at the federal level, or would it invite more costly trouble for all of us? Let us know in the Comments.