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Marijuana Growing Operations Pollute Federal Lands with Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, October 16, 2008) Some of America’s most pristine natural places are contaminated with toxic pesticides from illegal marijuana growing operations. Recent busts in the 1800 square mile Sequoia National Park revealed the use of imported and banned herbicides and insecticides in intensive growing sites. Rat poisons, or rodenticides, were also scattered around to kill small animals who might be tempted to nibble a plant. CNN reports that “millions of dollars are spent every year to find and uproot marijuana-growing operations on state and federal lands, but federal officials say no money is budgeted to clean up the environmental mess left behind after helicopters carry off the plants,” and this environmental mess is severe.

The extent of marijuana growing on federal lands is unknown, but seven hundred grow sites were discovered in California in 2007-2008. Many of these operations are run by Mexican marijuana growing cartels and the chemicals used are illegally imported from Mexico. It is estimated that 1.5 lbs of fertilizers and pesticides is used for every 11.5 plants. For the five million plants uprooted in California in 2007, this amounts to over 650,000 lbs of fertilizers and pesticides. Agent Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Game said “I’ve seen the pesticide residue on the plants…you ain’t just smoking pot, bud. You’re smoking some heavy-duty pesticides from Mexico.”

Scott Wanek, the western regional chief ranger for the National Park Service, said he believes the environmental impact is far greater than anyone knows. “Think about Sequoia,” Mr. Wanek said. “The impact goes well beyond the acreage planted. They create huge networks of trail systems, and the chemicals that get into watersheds are potentially very far-reaching — all the way to drinking water for the downstream communities. We are trying to study that now.” In addition to these impacts, large wildlife such as deer and bear have been found shot and killed by the armed guards at the growing sites. Cicely Muldoon, deputy regional director of the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service said “People light up a joint, and they have no idea the amount of environmental damage associated with it.”

Forest Service Agent Ron Pugh said “These are America’s most precious resources, and they are being devastated by an unprecedented commercial enterprise conducted by armed foreign nationals. It is a huge mess.” In addition to the toxic growing practices, drug eradication programs by the U.S. government have employed toxic methods, adding another level to the huge mess. In the so-called war on drugs, the U.S. government has used large amounts of toxic herbicides in the U.S. and abroad in an attempt to eradicate plants grown for drug use, such coca in Colombia, poppies in Afghanistan and marijuana in the U.S.

In the early 1980s, Beyond Pesticides (then the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides) was a plaintiff with the Sierra Club in a lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) over its use of aerial herbicide spraying for marijuana eradication. At the time, DEA was employing paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide, in its Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. While the lawsuit resulted in the requirement of an environmental impact assessment for spraying paraquat, the impact assessment relied on false assumptions of exposure—in fact, the DEA uses were similar to those which the EPA cancelled because of unreasonable risks. Despite this, the lawsuit was unsuccessful in eliminating the use of paraquat. The herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate have also been used extensively in marijuana eradication efforts. Both the harmful practices employed by some marijuana growers and the dangerous DEA practice of eliminating some plants with chemicals contribute to pesticide contamination.

Sources: CNN, The Desert Sun


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