Northern California law enforcement recently conducted one of the biggest marijuana raids in years.
Over 100,000 pot plants were uprooted. This wasn’t your ordinary pot bust, however; this sweep took place in the area known as the “Emerald Triangle,” a span of forest dotted with hundreds of illicit pot-farming operations. While the large scale cultivation of cannabis remains illegal under state and federal law, authorities now say that they’re cracking down for another reason: extreme water use.
“They estimate 500,000 gallons of water a day were being sucked down by these marijuana plants,” says reporter Josh Harkinson, who wrote about the raid for Mother Jones. He says growers were diverting so much water to their farms, it was starting to take a toll on wildlife. “That might be okay if you’re a big field in central valley with senior water rights, but if you’re taking that [from] small mountain streams that support salmon and trout, then it can have a pretty big impact.”
Harkinson says pot is a 31-billion dollar a year industry in California. Because illegal pot farming is so prolific, he says it’s unlikely that local law enforcement broke up the encampment simply because it was illegal. He says California’s deepening drought has caused a shift in priorities for local law enforcement, and that there could be more raids in the future. “If they were just going after marijuana, they would have a lot of work to do,” he says. “I think they chose this particularly because it has a huge environmental impact.”
Not everybody agrees with this conclusion, however. Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the Emerald Grower’s Association says this is just business as usual. “Nothing in this raid says anything about environmental impact,” Allen says. “The number of plants they seize is what they put on their funding requests and they’re using the drought and water as political cover to carry on the drug war, just like they have for decades.”
Press the play button above to hear more about the impact that pot farmers are having on the California drought.