Pubdate: Wed, 21 May 2014
Source: Delaware County Daily Times (PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Daily Times
Author: Rob Hotakainen, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau
Page: 23


WASHINGTON --- Delivering a blow to pot growers in Washington state
and Colorado, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday that it
won't allow any federally controlled water to be used on marijuana
crops because Congress has banned the drug.

"As a federal agency, Reclamation is obligated to adhere to federal
law in the conduct of its responsibilities to the American people,"
said Dan DuBray, the agency's chief of public affairs.

The ruling makes clear that the Obama administration is willing to set
limits on the states' legalization experiments, even though the
Justice Department said in August that it wouldn't block their plans
to tax and sell the drug.

The decision might hit hardest in Washington state, as the federal
agency controls the water supply for two-thirds of the state's
irrigated land.

"It's the outcome we'd been told to expect," said Scott Revell, the
district manager for the Roza Irrigation District in Washington state,
which contracts with the federal agency to provide water to roughly
72,000 acres in the Yakima Valley. He said the ruling would take
effect immediately.

Alan Schreiber, a Franklin County, Wash., farmer who's applied for a
license to grow marijuana for pest-control research, called the ruling
only an inconvenience for growers and said it wouldn't stop them,
given the high value of the crop.

According to his calculations, an acre of marijuana could be worth
$7.4 million a year, based on a sales price of $3 per gram, four crops
per year and the plants being grown 2 feet apart, each producing 1
ounce of pot. By comparison, he said, blueberries were the topvalued
crop in Washington state in 2011, and were worth $17,000 per acre.

"That means cannabis is going to be 500 times more valuable than the
most valuable crop in the state," Schreiber said. "How hard do you
think it would be, if you're growing a crop for $7 million an acre, to
get a 5,000-gallon tank of water and fill it every two weeks?"

Anticipating that the ruling may not go their way, Washington state
officials had already been discussing other ways that growers could
get water.

Joye Redfield-Wilder, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department
of Ecology, said growers might be able to drill their own wells or tap
into a city water supply. Under state law, greenhouse growers can use
well water if their operations use no more than 5,000 gallons of water
per day.

"These operations are fairly small," Redfield-Wilder said, adding that
growers might be subject to different regulations in different
watersheds, depending on the availability of water. "There's a lot of

DuBray said the agency's policy would apply to all of its locations in
the 17 Western states it serves, including states that have
decriminalized or authorized the cultivation of marijuana.

Washington and Colorado are the only states that have approved
marijuana for recreational use, while 21 states allow its use for
medical purposes. In Colorado, growers will be less affected by the
new ruling because the state allows only indoor pot farms.

DuBray said the Bureau of Reclamation would conduct its operations "in
a manner that is consistent with the Controlled Substances Act," the
1970 law that prohibits marijuana.

He said that if the agency became aware of any federally controlled
water being used on marijuana crops, it would refer cases to the
Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

Dan Riffle, the director of federal policies for the pro-legalization
Marijuana Policy Project, said the ruling "underscores the absurdity
behind federal marijuana laws and the need for Congress to fix them."

"This decision says that because of the Controlled Substance Act,
federally controlled water can't be used to produce marijuana but can
be used to produce more addictive, toxic and dangerous drugs like
alcohol and tobacco," he said.
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