The illegality of cannabis has caused a host of problems over the years and continues to do so. Denial of a valuable medicine, unjust incarceration, and institutionalized racism only begin to tell the tale. But as these problems finally start to see a resolution, another aspect of illegal cannabis begins to rear its head more frequently. Pollution caused by irresponsible guerilla growers.
The problem with guerilla growers
Sure they provide cannabis to otherwise without masses, but at what cost? Many illegal operations don’t just break the law about cannabis. Other shortcuts often find their way into common practice simply for the sake of convenience or lower cost. California’s beautiful forests are paying the price for it.
The Golden State is the undisputed birthplace of underground cannabis in the United States. However, there are two schools: the freedom fighters who take pride in their product, and the guerilla growers who stoop to any lengths to make a quick buck.
The first group has begun to embrace legal cultivation and strives to produce a safe product and protect the environment. The latter, on the other hand, is becoming an alarming environmental hazard.
Pollution at alarming levels
The hazards of guerilla grows come in several forms.
- Banned pesticides
- Dangerous fertilizers
- Destruction of landscape leading to erosion and deforestation
- Poisons used to deter animals
- Poor cultivation controls leading to contamination of soil and water
- Leaked fuel for generators
- Discarded butane from onsite concentrate production
With an estimated 90% of all illegal US grows occurring in the vast forests of California, the problem of these uncaring profiteers has reached critical levels. Ecologist Mourad Gabriel, who has investigated illegal grow sites and their environmental effects for state and federal agencies, calculates pollution levels have increased between 40 and 80 times that of discovered sources only four years ago.
According to Reuters, that translates to 731,000 pounds of solid fertilizer, 491,000 ounces of concentrated liquid fertilizer and 200,000 ounces of toxic pesticides.
Cleaning up the mess
The hazardous waste has already put several law enforcement personnel and even some of the illegal growers in the hospital with severe symptoms. Who gets stuck with the bill to clean up the mess? Taxpayers.
Thankfully, legislators earmarked portions of the tax revenue from legal, regulated grows and sales to aid in the effort. But the sheer volume of sites and waste means that hundreds of discovered grows continue to pollute the ground and water.
Ironically, one potential method to suck the pollution from the soil rests in the very crop that started it. Scientists and farmers successfully use hemp to pull heavy metals from the soil in several highly polluted areas. Chernobyl, Italy, and other polluted regions have used hemp for decades to naturally clean soil.
However, that doesn’t help the other damages, such as the sheer volume of hazardous trash left at sites. Nor do annual crops help stop the erosion of the landscape that only permanent vegetation can deal with.
How these grows affect you
What do these guerilla growers mean to you as a consumer? They put a bad name on cannabis in general, for one. They divert funds from taxes, including legal sales to clean up the mess. Unlike personal grows or even small eco-friendly illegal ops, these sites, and their profits, usually center around cartels and gangs.
Consuming the cannabis from these sites most likely would affect a person’s health as well. The illegal chemicals used are illegal because they are dangerous for humans as well as the environment.
What you can do to help
For those who have to buy underground herb, know where your weed comes from. Even better, buy from legal sources if at all possible. Not only does it deter hazardous grows like this, but it helps raise the tax revenue to clean them up.
The government cries about legal herb making its way into non-legal states. But one look at the damage of illegal crops like this, and the solution is obvious. “Smurfs“, those who smuggle legal, regulated herb to the black market, are doing us, and the environment, a favor.