Growing pot outdoors is indeed a waste of water

Medical marijuana at Canna Care Inc., a dispensary in Sacramento.
Medical marijuana at Canna Care Inc., a dispensary in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee

To hear local medical marijuana advocates tell it, they are martyrs and misunderstood victims of misplaced drought-shaming.

But there’s nothing misplaced about what the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors did earlier this week. With their minds rightly on conserving water in a drought, they doubled down on policies that limit how much pot can be grown in unincorporated areas of the county and penalize people who ignore those rules.

In many ways, this issue is nothing new. Growing medical marijuana has been illegal outdoors since last year, when the supervisors decided to crack down on huge operations at the southern end of the county. It remains OK to do it indoors as long as it’s only nine plants.

The new wrinkle? Tougher demands to conserve water during a fourth year of drought.

That led the supervisors earlier this week to designate outdoor pot growing as “water waste” under the county Water Agency Code. Violators are liable for fines of up to $500 per day.

On Tuesday, they stayed their course of conservation. In fact, they broadened it.

Now any activity that’s illegal and relies on water – whether it’s growing marijuana outdoors or building a drainage ditch to illegally divert and collect water – is considered “water waste” and subject to stiffer fines. That goes for existing county and state laws, as well as any new ones the Board of Supervisors decides to enact.

“If, because of the continuing drought, the board found it appropriate to prohibit the installation of new turf, for example, the ordinance would consider that water waste as well,” Ted Wolter, chief of staff for Supervisor Roberta MacGlashan, told The Bee’s Brenna Lyles.

Supervisor Phil Serna insists that updating the ordinance “wasn’t about marijuana. It was about water conservation.”

The pot advocates don’t buy that, of course, but he’s right. Growing marijuana outdoors is a big waste of water at a time when we don’t have much. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, one plant can drink 5 to 10 gallons of water per day. And to restate the obvious, it is illegal.

Unfortunately, not all counties have weighed in on this issue the way Sacramento has. Yolo County supervisors backed off a proposed ordinance that would have limited the number of marijuana plants grown outdoors to 12 per parcel.

As reservoir levels fall, farmers, ranchers and homeowners are cutting back. The same should go for marijuana growers. In our parched state, they can’t waste water on weed.