Pubdate: Fri, 04 Apr 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Author: Christi Turner, Writers on the Range


If you care about protecting clean water, endangered species and
public health, then you might want to consider legalizing marijuana
for recreational use.

That's because so much of the stuff is now being grown illegally on
our public lands in places dubbed "trespass grows." These secretive
and often well-guarded farms do enormous environmental damage and
place a huge burden on federal agencies. In California in 2013, the
Forest Service discovered about 1 million plants within public forests
on nearly 400 sites. Thousands of trees had been logged to make way
for marijuana plants.

Growers also divert millions of gallons of water from forest streams
to pot plantations, drenching a single plant with as much as 6 gallons
of water daily. Perhaps even more destructively, they dump untold
amounts of pesticides into the watershed. In 2012, for example, at
least 19,000 pounds of pesticides were confiscated from trespass grow
sites in California, which probably has the most illegal pot farms in
the nation.

For rare forest species like the Pacific fisher, a candidate for the
endangered species list, pot farms can be killing farms. The animals
are dying at alarming rates, many poisoned by growers employing
illegal rodenticides.

Wayne Spencer of the Conservation Biology Institute, who develops
management plans to protect fishers, recently announced that he
personally supports legalization of marijuana, both for the sake of
the forest and the fragile species that depend on natural areas.

Policing trespass grows also takes up a huge amount of federal
agencies' time, energy and money. The California district of the U.S.
Forest Service says the majority of its law enforcement workload is
now trespass grow investigations - "a major distraction for the
mission of the Forest Service."

Rick Fleming, director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, says
that his volunteers have worked hundreds of trespass grow cleanups,
the only type of volunteer work where they partner with law

In a time when our culture is increasingly conscious of where our
goods come from, as well as of the impact of our consumer choices,
marijuana is largely left out of the equation. We buy fair
trade-certified, rainforest-safe coffee because it benefits both
ecosystems and coffee farmers. We demand organic food because we want
fewer pesticides on the land and in our bodies. We seek local produce
to support local farmers. Shouldn't we have the same concerns about

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude still seems to be stuck in the
1970s: That any marijuana from California is clean, green and
hippie-grown. But, as Mother Jones magazine recently pointed out, the
reality is that the industrial farming of pot is probably closer to
the dirty days of the meatpacking industry, as described in Upton
Sinclair's "The Jungle." As trail crew leader Fleming puts it, illegal
pot growers "don't give a damn about anything. They either eat it,
kill it or poison it."

Spencer describes a recent outreach event on trespass grows that ended
with a well-meaning person asking, "Can't we just educate illegal
growers?" Fleming's response: "These are bad men. They will kill
anything that gets between them and their profits."

Legalizing marijuana at the federal level could nip all this in the
bud. A high-profit criminal industry would be washed away by a flood
of small farmers willing to try their hand at cannabis and selling it
on a regulated market. Of course, that requires delisting marijuana as
a Schedule I substance, as 18 members of Congress recently petitioned
President Obama to do.

It's nonsensical that pot continues to be treated as if it's more
dangerous than methamphetamines or cocaine. Washington and Colorado
are already regulating marijuana for recreational use at the state
level. They allow companies to grow and sell marijuana at retail,
effectively removing smokers' motivation to source it illegally and
capturing state revenues from the market - roughly $2 million in tax
revenue in the first month of sales in Colorado alone.

At least Attorney General Eric Holder has said he won't prosecute
Coloradans and Washingtonians who comply with their states' marijuana
regulations, even though they conflict with federal law. More
recently, he reassured banks that his office plans to make it safe for
them to open accounts with state-approved marijuana suppliers. But
Holder has given no more than his word that smokers, growers and
bankers won't be prosecuted; meanwhile, the GOP-controlled House
passed a bill recently to pressure the attorney general into cracking
down. This has happened before: In 2011, in Mendocino County, Calif.,
the federal Drug Enforcement Agency closed down a model program that
monitored legal marijuana cultivation and used revenues to fight
trespass grows.

This contradictory, irrational policy needs to end. Our public lands
need a break from ruthless industrialization and the West's wild
creatures need their home back.  
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