In the wake of Washington and Colorado’s legalization of recreational marijuana, concerned cannabis users are beginning to realize that their high comes at a price to the planet. In an enormous buzzkill published in the latest issue of Mother Jones, reporter Josh Harkinson documents the massive burden that pot cultivation places on the environment. Focusing on the Northern California region known as the “Emerald Triangle” in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties, Harkinson exposes the threat that both legal and illegal pot operations pose to species, ecosystems, and community safety.
American pot farming has changed drastically since the 1970s when hippies traveled to Northern California in an attempt to reconnect with the land and grow marijuana untainted by Mexican herbicides. In 2013 alone, illegal stands of marijuana make up 72 percent of plants seized by California law enforcement. Not only does this figure translate into the misuse of public or tribal land, but thousands of pounds of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, misappropriated water, tons of trash, and the death of endangered species. Forests recovering from the aggressive logging and trapping of the early 20th century now have to contend with cartels that intentionally poison wildlife to protect their crops, threaten biologists, and leave a path of destruction for both scientists and taxpayers to remediate.
Even legal growers have a difficult time maintaining a responsible business while also turning a profit. Since the death of the timber industry in the mid-1990s, pot became the region’s main source of income. To compete or even remain afloat, farmers feel the pressure to expand their outfits. California’s outdoor growers use 60 million gallons of water each day in the midst of the worst drought in the state’s recorded history. Indoor cultivators burn through 9 percent of the state’s electricity, stressing the grid and sapping power from residential communities. Nationwide, 4,600 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere with each pound of pot produced, contributing to global warming.
Advocates for the legalization of marijuana and environmental activists alike favor the regulation of the industry so that stricter codes of conduct can control how and where pot is grown. Without restrictions or guidelines, small farmers that tend to favor organic, “artisinal” techniques run the risk of being smothered by businesses that support big rows of chemical and resource-intensive monocultures. The ever-present struggle between state and federal policy also makes responsible management difficult as it leaves almost everyone guessing as to whether their crops are in danger of being seized.
Regardless of the legal status of the crop, marijuana will likely soon become subject to the same scrutiny as every other plant grown for human consumption, be it for food or recreational use. The emerging awareness of weed’s ecological impact will mean that conscious consumers, connoisseurs, and commonplace cottonmouths alike must consider the consequences of their high in regards to environmental responsibility.
Via Mother Jones