In 2018, recreational cannabis was legalized across the state of California, a monumental achievement for the people lobbying for the use of the plant for decades. And while the state continues to benefit from the economic growth of the legal cannabis industry, the illegal marijuana industry is still a scourge on the California wilderness.
With the legal marijuana market in California bringing in an astounding $3 billion in revenues, it’s still dwarfed by the $9 billion illegal market.
Today, federal and state officials continue to direct their attention to the illegal marijuana grows in the Northern California, particularly those that use deadly pesticides that ravage the wildlife of the dense wilderness. But there’s another problem with illegal grows and that has to do with the water needed to grow the plant.
“The true crime here is the fact that they’re killing off basically America’s public lands, killing off the wildlife, killing off our water,” said Kevin Mayer, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement assistant special agent in charge, to NPR. “This is stuff that, you know, it’s not gonna repair itself.”
The Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project (CROP), which is dedicated to restoring criminal grow sites on state and federal property in California, estimates that 9 billion gallons of water is diverted to illegal marijuana grows on public lands. That’s enough water for the year for a town of 35,000 people.
“In a state like California where water battles and drought are a way of life, that number is shocking,” said Rich McIntyre, director of CROP, to the Associated Press.
An estimated 60 percent of California’s water comes from public land, and if you’ve ever looked at an empty lake or your water bill, that number should be frightening.
Much of the illegal grow sites in the state, many of which are operated by Mexican drug cartels, are located in the dense wilderness of the Shasta Trinity National Forest. That waters feeds into Shasta and Trinity Lakes through the many tributaries in the area.
The deadly pesticides found at these sites still remain problem number one for the NorCal wilderness, since they can kill animals and infiltrate water systems from miles away. But the hidden issue with the illegal marijuana industry is the missing water which rightfully belongs to the people of California.
With the feverish debate of water storage still raging in The Golden State, illegal marijuana grows deserve the attention of public.