There is no doubt that illicit marijuana growing operations in national parks, forests and other wild areas cause significant environmental problems, as your story, “The Long Thirst” (Spring, 2009), correctly noted. It is disturbing, however, that neither our political leadership nor the bulk of the environmental movement have had the courage to recognize that this problem has both an obvious cause and an obvious solution.
Marijuana is, like it or not, a popular consumer product — estimated to be the largest cash crop in both California and the U.S. But our present laws ban legitimate businesses from producing it in a safe, orderly manner. Instead, prohibition has handed this very large market — estimated at roughly $14 billion in California alone — to criminal gangs.
Our efforts to “eradicate” this lucrative business have simply driven the growers into more remote, environmentally sensitive regions. According to the state of California, the number of marijuana plants seized by the state’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting increased by over 2,000 percent from 1998 to 2008. And while as recently as 2001, the majority of plants were seized from private lands, now fully 70% are seized on public lands — those national parks and forests that everyone is rightly worried about. Our misguided policies have literally driven the growers into the hills.
The answer is as simple as it is politically inconvenient: Regulate production of marijuana just as we regulate production of beer, wine, and liquor. After all, there’s a reason we don’t read of drug cartels planting vineyards in our national parks.
Bruce Mirken, Director of Communications
Marijuana Policy Project
P.O. Box 77492
Washington, D.C. 20013