Drug Cartels Turning US Forests into Marijuana Plantations, Toxic Messes


Photo via Eideard

When I argued a few months back that legalizing marijuana would be good for the environment, my main point was that illegal marijuana plantations endanger forests by operating under the radar--and unregulated--in some of our most pristine natural areas. They contaminate water supplies, result in deforestation, and threaten indigenous species. But I had no idea how widespread the destruction really was--just recently, the "Save our Sierras" campaign uncovered 69 marijuana plantations run by Mexican drug cartels and seized over a billion dollars worth of plants in California national forests.According to a report in Greenwire,

"Mexican drug trafficking organizations have been operating on public lands to cultivate marijuana, with serious consequences for the environment and public safety," said Gil Kerlikowske, chief of the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In creating, and eventually abandoning, vast marijuana plantations the cartels are leaving heaps of trash, slaughtered animals, copious amounts of pesticides, and dangerous spilled fuels in their wake. Essentially, each plantation results in an environmental disaster. But the campaign to stop them is vigorous, and is already seeing encouraging results:
The massive operation that began in February has already seized about 318,000 marijuana plants worth an estimated $1.1 billion, officials announced last week. In addition to 82 arrests, the multi-jurisdictional federal, state and local operation netted 42 pounds of processed marijuana, more than $40,000 in cash, 25 weapons and three vehicles.
But there are still believed to be many plantations still in operation, and the cartels aren't slowing down. They've realized that it's cheaper and easier to fund the plantations from below the border and grow the marijuana closer to prime US markets--eliminating the need to smuggle the drugs across the border. Instead, US forests are suffering. The pesticides are perhaps the worst byproduct of the operations:
Growers in Fresno County used a cocktail of pesticides and fertilizers many times stronger than what is used on residential lawns to cultivate their crop . . . While the chemical pesticides kill insects and other organisms directly, fertilizer runoff contaminates local waterways and aids in the growth of algae and weeds. The vegetation in turn impedes water flows that are critical to frogs, toads and salamanders in the Kings and San Joaquin rivers.
As a response to the issue, California is hiring more forest service law enforcement, and expanding their efforts. But it seems to me that the surest way to prevent such destruction in the forests is to legalize the growing of marijuana, and thus removing the incentives to operate recklessly and clandestinely--and allowing for regulation of pesticide and fertilizer use. For now, however, I wish the Save our Sierras program continued luck in their good work.

More on Marijuana:
Legalizing Marijuana in California Could be Good for the Environment
North Dakota May Legalize Hemp Cultivation

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