Outlaw Cannabis Operations Continue Growing on Public Lands

While the shelter-in-place order is keeping much of California safely at home, there is one group of people who are taking advantage of the empty roads and lack of prying eyes: “underground-market” cannabis growers. The National Forests and other public lands of Northern California have long been home to environmentally disastrous illegal grow operations, and anecdotal reports out of Trinity County indicate an increase in activity in the last few weeks. Many of these grow sites get abandoned at the end of the season or left in need of remediation after raids by law enforcement. These sites often contain copious amounts of trash and remnants of incredibly toxic pesticides, herbicides and rodenticides. 

By some estimates there are at least 1500 illicit grows in California, though nobody really knows the actual number, says Chris Morrill, Executive Director of CalWild. What he does know, is that it takes approximately $40,000 to reclaim each abandoned grow site. CROP also knows that only 60-70% of illicit grow sites are ever discovered, making funding and detection two of their big challenges, along with disposing of the toxic substances that are often found on illicit grow sites.

 According to the CROP Project, 90% of sites reclaimed in 2018 contained lethal, controlled or banned pesticides, including Sarin-based malathion, Brodifacoum/Bromadiolone, Carbofuran, Methamidophos, and Cholecalciferol. Carbofuran is the most toxic, EPA-banned pesticide that is regularly found on grow sites. In addition to being a danger to those working at or cleaning up the sites, these chemicals are devastating to wildlife. The danger isn’t just for the animal that initially ingests the chemicals. 

California Congressman Jared Huffman and Doug LaMalfa were working through the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Committee to secure funding for the CROP Project. Rep. Huffman’s recently passed Wilderness Bill has provisions to “restore public lands affected by illegal trespass marijuana grows by establishing a partnership of federal, state, and local entities to facilitate the recovery of land and waters damaged by illegal marijuana growing sites.” 

Note: Larry Glass Executive Director of the NEC is on the advisory board of CROP