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.