Legalizing Marijuana is Saving California’s Wildlife from Toxic Pesticides

Legalization of cannabis in California could mean the ability to regulate toxic chemical use on marijuana farms and save the wildlife. The question is whether such regulation would really have teeth due to a lack of enforcement agents and how exactly compliance would be enforced.

If you’re buying cannabis in the U.S., there’s a good chance it could be grown in California. There are growers with legitimate operations, but plenty of growers are still illegitimate and run a dirty game. These illegal farmers squat on public lands, use pesticides, and other toxic chemicals, harvest the marijuana and leave behind a site that costs taxpayers dollars to clean up.   

With federal prohibition, growers in California are able to circumvent the legitimate marketplace and find black markets in other states where the drug is still illegal, and more profits are to be made. This is bad news for consumers and the wildlife.

California may be the cannabis capital of the U.S., but at the same time, an increasing environmental disaster is taking place. Sites are hidden in forests where conditions for agriculture aren’t optimal. This drives growers to questionable measures in their attempts to maximize production.

Overuse and illegal use of toxic chemicals

Overuse of pesticides is rampant, and it’s threatening the wildlife. On some illegal farms run by cartels, traces of illegal chemicals that have been banned for many years have been found in small mammals and birds. Dr. Mourad Gabriel and his colleagues at the University of California have found owls showing signs of poisoning by chemicals used to prevent rats from eating cannabis sprouts. When these chemicals are ingested, they cause internal bleeding and brain damage.

Scientists are accustomed to seeing these chemicals called rodenticides in owl livers, but this is usually in those found in urban areas. But some exposed owls have been found from remote forest areas where roads don’t penetrate. Looking at satellite images for areas where such samples have been found, it was obvious to the scientists that the rodenticides from illegal marijuana operations were moving up the food chain.

This means that the potential for the poisoning larger wildlife exists and as toxic chemicals seep into the water supply, even livestock and humans are at risk of being poisoned.

Dr. Gabriel’s data shows clear contamination of marijuana plants, by not just one but a plethora of pesticides that should not be used on consumable products. The ecologists see this on a level that poses a threat even to humans.

Legitimization and regulation

With legitimization of the cannabis industry, illegal chemicals and overuse could be addressed. Dr. Gabriel says that many of the growers want to become sustainable and come under regulatory oversight. However, he admits that the black market will not vanish overnight.

As the industry begins to mature, awareness of the need to protect wildlife and the environment while growing cannabis is increasing. Various programs promote a green agenda such as branding of products that have been grown without pesticides.

Enforcement will be difficult

Other parties in California believe that legalization of marijuana will not benefit the wildlife. They believe that more people will move into the state solely to grow marijuana and with money as their primary motivation, their incentive to care for the environment and wildlife will be lacking.

Another concern is that the state lacks the capacity to regulate the growing industry and any overuse of toxic chemicals. The millions of dollars growers can earn from marijuana means that any fines imposed by the state are likely to be regarded as a necessary nuisance rather than a preventative.

On the north-west of California, in the dense forests of Humboldt County, there are around 15,000 grow sites, and only 91 of them have been granted legal permits. This reflects the fact that more profits accrue from the black market than from regulated industry.

At present, there is a lack of agents who can enforce the law and address illegal pesticide use by cannabis farmers. California has 58 counties and many farms that need to be monitored.  Regulations may be instituted but whether they will be enforced and the standardization of enforcement is an issue.

Conservationists are concerned

The growing legitimization of the cannabis industry is seen as a “green rush,” enabling entrepreneurs to earn plenty of money legally. If the ‘gold rush’ was anything to go by, it brought great wealth but great environmental devastation to forests, land, and rivers. Conservationists do not want the same to happen today. They don’t want the environment to be sacrificed for short-term monetary gains.

Laboratories test that it’s clean and safe

If you’re worried about whether your medical marijuana is contaminated, laboratories are in the business of testing it to make sure it’s clean and safe. This face of the industry is clinical and empirical as technicians in lab coats test for chemical contaminants and microbiological contaminants.

From July this year, all legal cultivators and distributors will have to allow products to be tested for bacteria, heavy metals, and chemicals. This is particularly important to medical marijuana consumers whose immune systems may be compromised. The regulation and legalizing of marijuana can help with the development of certain standards that must be met to protect all concerned. The bottom line is that the illegal cultivation of marijuana and selling it on the black market is bad for the environment and bad for consumers.  

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