Lezlie Sterling / The Bee

Editorial: Authorities can’t let pot farms degrade state’s water and land

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6E

For decades, California lawmakers have imposed ever tighter restrictions on logging, farming, and other activities that can foul water and damage the environment.

But they aren't showing the same aggressiveness about halting damage being done by marijuana farmers. That timidity needs to end.

Proponents of medical marijuana and marijuana legalization want their harvest to be treated like other commercial products. However, too often they ignore the most basic rules that other farmers follow.

Too many growers overuse fertilizers and pesticides, and spill the toxic chemicals into waterways. Increasingly, they denude mountainsides so they can grow their quasi-legal crops in the fullest sun, with no concern about erosion.

As The Sacramento Bee's Matt Weiser wrote last October, regulations regarding marijuana cultivation are hazy. But steps could be taken.

Attorney General Kamala Harris, always interested in combating crime against the environment, should use her position to bring civil suits against growers who would reap profits at the expense of the land.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is carrying legislation to regulate marijuana dispensaries. If he wants to further legitimize marijuana, he should consider amendments to ensure that further cultivation doesn't threaten water quality or the environment.

The state has significant authority over timber harvests. Marijuana growers avoid regulation that applies to lumber companies by not selling the trees they fell as they clear forestland for their farms. That needs to change.

In June, the Department of Pesticide Regulation found residue of illegal pesticide on strawberries and ordered the Santa Cruz County grower to destroy the crop and pull berries off store shelves. Perhaps pesticide regulators should check for pesticide residue on marijuana sold as medicine in dispensaries, and act accordingly.

The Department of Pesticide Regulation is proposing to restrict some of the most problematic rodenticides used by marijuana growers. Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides kill mice and rats by causing them to hemorrhage. But the products also kill pet dogs and cats, and wildlife including endangered species that eat the pesticide or animals that already have eaten it. The time to comment about the proposed regulation will end on Sept. 3. The department cannot act fast enough.

Earlier this month, The Eureka Times-Standard reported that law enforcement in Humboldt County seized enough rodenticide on pot farms to kill 2,753 wood rats – or many Pacific fishers and spotted owls. Enough banned pesticide, carbofuran, was discovered at one site to kill 750 black bears.

California's regional water quality control boards clearly have a role. They can issue fines for pollution and erosion that fouls waterways. However, as Pamela Creedon, executive director of the Central Valley board recently noted, water board investigators aren't first-responders.

While no one should blame environmental regulators for not wanting to confront potentially armed and dangerous marijuana growers, there are ways inspectors can do their jobs. They could request assistance from Attorney General Harris or sheriff's departments. The worst message to send is there will be no penalty for disregarding environmental laws.

California's sun and soil are especially conducive to marijuana cultivation. Lawmakers couldn't eradicate the weed, even if they wanted to. But they owe it to future generations to halt the environmental damage that marijuana farming is causing.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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