Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that provides for steep civil penalties against marijuana grows that “damage the environment by dumping wastewater and chemicals, removing trees and killing wild animals.” This measure will increase the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s power over illegal marijuana grow operations on public lands.
We’ve talked before about how marijuana prohibition is bad for the environment. Though legalization and regulation in California is on the table for 2016, the necessity of addressing ongoing environmental damage caused by the state’s current black and grey markets could not wait until then. Last year alone, California state agents carried out nearly 250 raids on illegal marijuana operations, eradicating 609,480 marijuana plants and seizing 15,839 pounds of processed marijuana. Further, and particularly distressing in a year of severe drought, state agents “found more than 135 dams or diversions in rivers and streams that resulted in the theft of about 5 million gallons of water for marijuana grows.”
Under this new law, fines of up to $40,000 may be assessed for illegally dumping certain kinds of hazardous materials into rivers and streams, and fines of up to $10,000 may be assessed for removing trees or trapping and killing wildlife. As many states struggle with illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, it is good to see California taking proactive steps to mitigate environmental damage. Of course, we want to see California enforce these new laws against anyone — not just those involved with illegal cannabis — who violates them.
And of course, this is all a small piece of the bigger picture when it comes to the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation, whether legal or illegal, and whether indoor or outdoor. Environmental sustainability and energy conservation should be key concerns of regulators and legal growers in formulating rules applicable to marijuana businesses. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Until California replaces marijuana prohibition with a legalization regime that reasonably regulates the production and sale of marijuana, the environmental destruction caused by illegal grows will only continue. These steep civil penalties may slow things down a bit, but what California really needs is full legalization.