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Pot Shots: Weed May be Legal, But These Grows Aren’t

In Culture
State and federal officials have budgeted millions of dollars to eradicate illegal pot farms on public lands.  Photo by Canna Obscura, via Shutterstock

State and federal officials have budgeted millions of dollars to eradicate illegal pot farms on public lands. Photo by Canna Obscura, via Shutterstock

Like a bad cop buddy film from the ’80s, an unusual set of circumstances has forced U.S. and state officials, who spent years fighting over the legality of the Golden State’s booming pot market, to team up and fight an unlikely shared enemy: pot farmers. As California leaves its Wild West weed days in the dust, a number of illegal marijuana grows continue to pop up on public land, and to combat the, er, growing problem, U.S. and state officials announced plans last week to use $2.5 million in federal dollars to help eradicate the problem plants.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has vowed before to defend the state’s marijuana laws, called those wreaking devastation on natural resources “a public safety risk to all of us” at a press conference. “You’ve got to make it so crime doesn’t pay,” he said.

The increased grow operations are attributed mostly to Mexican drug cartels, which sell their harvest in states where pot is still outlawed. For those who missed/skipped/ditched DARE sessions in school, marijuana is still illegal under federal law, but the Trump administration has made it clear that fighting illegal grows will be a higher priority than targeting the legal recreational market.

“The reality of the situation is there is so much black market marijuana in California that we could use all of our resources going after just the black market and never get there,” U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said, adding that the focus is still on “what have been historically our federal law enforcement priorities: interstate trafficking, organized crime and the federal public lands.”

Illicit cultivation comes at a cost to both taxpayers and the environment, such as trees being cut down to make room for pot plants and natural waterways that are polluted by toxic pesticides. More than half of the state’s water supply runs through national forests, and about 40 percent of water samples taken downstream from illegal grows were contaminated, according to the Integral Ecology Research Center.

One highly toxic pesticide, Carbofuran, stands out among the chemicals found at grows and is banned in the U.S. for its lethal potency. Just a quarter teaspoon of concentrate can kill a 300-pound bear. Its effectiveness makes it widely used by cartels, and traces of it were found last year in 72 percent of the grow sites examined by researchers, a 15 percent increase from 2012.

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