by WILLIAM BIGELOW
Wildlife officials in California are alleging that medical marijuana farms are damaging the rivers and streams in Northern California, polluting them and leaving them high and dry, the Associated Press reports.
The marijuana farms’ use of water is compounding the effects of severe drought. In the isolated areas of Lake County, Humboldt County and Mendocino County, which are covered with forests, the marijuana that is grown is not for personal medical use but sold in the black market in other states as well as in California.
Lake County is so concerned about the environmental impact of the marijuana farming that it has issued an ordinance that would ban most of the faming in populated areas, and voted last year to ban outdoor grows. Denise Rushing, a Lake County supervisor, said:
People are coming in, denuding the hillsides, damming the creeks and mixing in fertilizers that are not allowed in the U.S. into our watersheds. When rains come, it flows downstream into the lake and our water supply. Counties are the ultimate arbiter of land use conflict, so while you have a right to grow marijuana for medicinal use, you don’t have a right to impinge on someone else’s happiness and wellbeing.
Since 1996, when Proposition 215 was passed, which was the first statewide medical marijuana voter initiative adopted in the USA, wildlife biologists noticed that the rivers and streams were drying up. Scott Bauer, a fisheries biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the AP, “We knew people were diverting water for marijuana operations, but we wanted to know exactly how much. We didn’t know they could consume all the water in a stream.”
Daniel McClean, a registered nurse and medical marijuana user, countered, “We definitely feel environmental issues are a concern. But more restrictive…ordinances will force people to start growing in unregulated and illegal places on public land.”
Anthony Silvaggio, a Humboldt State University sociology professor, noted that pot farmers think what is really damaging the rivers and streams are timber cutting and overfishing, the AP reports.
But Fish and Wildlife officials call the marijuana farms’ use of water a “full-scale environmental disaster…whether it’s grown quasi legally under the state’s medical marijuana laws, or it’s a complete cartel outdoor drug trafficking grow site, there is extreme environmental damage being done at all levels.”