It's been dubbed the California Green Rush, but the explosive proliferation of pot farms to meet the sky-rocketing demand for medical marijuana is having some repercussions that are far from green. Local government officials and researchers in Humboldt and Mendocino counties say farmers are engaging in reckless forest clearing, illegal diversion of streams, and use of pesticides and fertilizers that are polluting the waterways and killing wildlife.
But county officials and local regulatory agencies are caught in a catch-22: The farming of marijuana—for medicinal use or otherwise—remains illegal under federal law. Any regulation instituted by these agencies is, in effect, legitimizing the cultivation of a federally controlled substance, and the US Department of Justice has warned local officials that they could face individual prosecution if they continue to validate the farms.
Mark Lovelace, a Humboldt County supervisor, says the DOJ's policy is actually abetting the weed farmers, allowing them to get away with unchecked land development.
"This is not about marijuana, good or bad. This is just about the reality that this one industry, due to prohibition, has been essentially granted immunity from regulation," Lovelace says. "That's the unintended consequence of federal prohibition."
Road building, land grading, filling ...