Cannabis Regulations Can Help California’s Drought Crisis


You have to have your head buried in the sand if you aren’t concerned about our environment. Arctic ice caps are melting, California is running out of water and the wildfires are raging up and down the West Coast. I am honestly very frightened for our planet. One of the reasons that I support Bernie Sanders is because I feel that we desperately need a president that will seriously address climate change and our environment. As we argued early and often during the Oregon Measure 91 campaign, there are many reasons to support cannabis legalization and S.E. Smith in Rolling Stone magazine argues that dealing with California’s drought is one reason to support legalization in the Golden State:

California’s drought is believed to be the worst in 1,200 years. The state government has mandated unprecedented cutbacks in water use even as the nation’s largest agricultural producer allows crops to lie fallow in the fields and rips out orchards of water-hungry crops like almonds, the unwitting and somewhat unfairly targeted scapegoat of water waste.

Marijuana, however, remains largely in the shadows because its illegality makes it impossible to regulate. The bulk of the state’s biggest cash crop — estimated at around $16 billion dollars — is produced in the so-called Emerald Triangle of Humbolt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties, some of which have highly ecologically vulnerable areas but also offer the shelter of miles of state forest, once-ample water supplies and places to hide grows. Many farmers seek hidden nooks and crannies of the state to cultivate their illicit crop, and aren’t conscientious about water usage or environmental regulations because they don’t need to be, with no one looking over their shoulders – at least until recently.


The prospect of legalization creates avenues for the state to resolve marijuana’s bizarrely nebulous status, and by extension to start regulating its water usage and environmental impacts: How do you regulate a crop that people can’t legally produce? Technically, it’s quasi-legal to produce large grows, as long as farmers can offer documentation that they’re growing plants on behalf of those with medical marijuana prescriptions. Few farmers, however, are willing to run the risk of public attention.


Pilot programs are providing guidelines for a brave new world of marijuana growing, which is a strong start, but legalization needs to close the loop. Until grows can move to more ecologically appropriate locations, with more closely monitored and regulated water usage, marijuana cultivation will continue to contribute to environmental degradation and drought-associated problems across the state. As wildfires swirl across Northern California, underscoring the severity of water scarcity in the tinderbox environment, the argument for pursuing any means possible to control the drought becomes more and more appealing. A better framework for marijuana policy could be an important piece of the puzzle.

Smith’s entire piece is certainly worth a read. We reported on the need for regulations for the sake of our environment in one of our very first blogs on Marijuana Politics and the need for sensible rules are still needed across our country. There is a fine balance between allowing businesses to thrive and regulations, but when it comes to our environment, we need to protect public safety and well-being. California’s water crisis impacts not just Californians, or even just United States residents as California’s economy impacts the entire world. It is imperative that our nation addresses the California drought crisis before it is too late and if cannabis regulations can help at all, let’s implement them for the sake of all of us. Protecting and improving our environment won’t occur with any one policy, but let’s take it step by step before it’s too late.

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.