Press releases from the DEA and police agencies point with alarm to western pot farmers who, they claim, are wreaking environmental havoc. But what they do not point out is that this damage is not the result of marijuana farming; it is the result of illegal pot farming. It is part of the excessive costs of the extremely costly, totally ineffective failed “War on Drugs”.
Most of these stories take place in National Forests, where illicit marijuana patches have been planted, but a few of the growths were planted by trespassers on private lands with absentee owners.
The damages include stream pollution by fertilizer and pesticide run-off, soil erosion from improper tillage, trash (including fecal waste), and barbed wire – damaging to wildlife and unwary hikers. Some plots are even protected by booby-traps: trip wires connected to explosives.
Dangerous marijuana growing even occurs in cities. Rental houses, often in exclusive residential areas, are turned into grow houses. These all have extensive grow light, ventilation, and irrigation systems and frequently steal electric power by wiring around electric meters. Very little of the wiring is done by licensed electricians and none of them are inspected by local government code enforcers. These houses present serious fire dangers to the surrounding neighborhoods.
None of this damage and peril has to happen. It is the result of barring legitimate farmers and their good agricultural practices from growing marijuana and turning it over to outlaws with no relations with or obligations to the community. If marijuana were legal, legitimate farmers would grow it. They would protect their fields and prevent environmental damage, just as they do when they grow cotton or cabbage, corn or broccoli.
Corruption of the production system is an unavoidable consequence of prohibition. The destructive effects on marijuana farming are merely the latest examples.
Methamphetamine was developed in the teens of the last century. It became a pharmaceutical best-seller in the 1930s and was still an industrial leader when congress tightened regulation of stimulants in the 1970s. Now the news is full of scare stories about illegal meth labs, with their toxic wastes and explosions in residential areas.
But they never mention the legal labs that safely manufacture methamphetamine to be prescribed for children with ADHD under the name Desoxyn. These legal meth labs don’t explode and don’t start fires. They do pass EPA and FDA inspections.
The Merck company has produced legal cocaine for over a century, and the entire current legal cocaine supply for the U. S. is made by an affiliate of the Coca-Cola company as a by-product of the manufacture of decocainized leaves for flavoring. Neither of these companies has acted in an environmentally irresponsible way.
But when the DEA attempted to suppress illegal cocaine production in the Andes, the now-illegal farmers switched to slash-and-burn destruction of rain forests and polluted their surroundings with chemical wastes from coca processing. Once again, outlawing farmers created bad neighbors.
Alcohol Prohibition created both dangerous home processing and rural devastation. When Al Capone sold booze in Chicago, much of the alcohol was produced by small, hidden stills in urban tenement apartments. These bathtub stills often exploded and started fires in tenements in every major city. Southern moonshiners still trash forests and streams around their stills, just as they did during their Prohibition heyday. Now Anheuser-Busch and Jack Daniels are positive assets to their communities.
It’s time to legalize marijuana and let legitimate farmers displace the dangerous outlaws now running – and ruining the business. Tomatoes grow in zoned, safe hothouses, and wheat is grown without fertilizer run-off or topsoil erosion. And when was the last time a load of cucumbers was hijacked? Good farmers are good neighbors, whether they are raising beer (barley and rice), rum (sugar cane), whiskey (corn and rye), or marijuana.
To paraphrase the old bumper sticker:
While marijuana is outlawed, only
outlaws will grow marijuana.
outlaws will grow marijuana.