I was quoted in an article in The Bee last Sunday, "Medical marijuana: Pot farms hurting habitat," that could leave readers with serious misunderstandings about the environmental impacts of the Emerald Triangle's new "green rush."
Humboldt County is world-famous for producing high-quality cannabis. There are thousands of cannabis farms here. These farms exemplify a diverse spectrum of agriculture, ranging from industrial-scale grows to small cottage-industry farms.
Cultivation has increased since Proposition 215 gave a defense to patients who use medical cannabis and to growers who provide it. However, no one suggests that the enormous backcountry plantations, which are the source of many of the worst environmental harms, have anything to do with medical cannabis.
Contrary to the article, blaming environmental damage exclusively on medical cannabis cultivators is incorrect. It's the large-scale cultivators who grow without regard for toxins and water conservation who are harming the environment.
Unfortunately, the federal government exploits the evidence that large-scale cannabis cultivation causes real harms to support their efforts to target the most responsible growers.
By targeting conscientious medical growers and dispensaries, they are eliminating those who directly challenge their policies, even though they offer the best prospect of limiting environmental harms by creating a healthy market for environmentally friendly medical cannabis.
Growing cannabis is not itself an environmental crime. The issue is about how it is grown. Best management practices for any agricultural industry include water conservation, organic products, building soil and stewarding the land.
Additionally, large-scale "trespass grows" on our public lands employ destructive practices including banned pesticides, toxic rodenticides entering the food chain and killing wildlife, illegal water diversions, forest clearing, human waste and agricultural infrastructure left behind.
Not only is this sort of trespass grow illegal in any form, it is clearly far more environmentally damaging than the "medical" grows referred to in the article.
California has already established that patients deserve safe access to medical cannabis. Unfortunately, framing the environmental issue as exclusively a "medical cannabis issue" detracts from identifying real solutions and can also be seen as an attempt to de-legitimize the real need for medical cannabis for patients.
Let's stop pointing fingers at patients and caregivers. The environmental impacts of any industry are about scale and management practices. We will not limit environmental impacts by targeting those who are trying to follow what few rules exist.
By creating a regulatory framework of best management practices, we can integrate this agricultural industry into our society, thereby reducing environmental impacts while increasing economic opportunity. The more the federal government prohibits cultivation, whether medicinal or not, the less we can environmentally regulate it.