While the midterm elections were a loss for many of the more conservation-minded candidates throughout the U.S., huge strides were made towards marijuana legalization. Residents in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. chose to hit the polls rather than their bongs and voted to legalize recreational weed. Following on the heels of Washington state and Colorado, the movement to do away with pot prohibition is gaining considerable momentum. Advocates believe that the stage is now set for voters to finally “legalize it” in California in 2016.
So, what will this mean for North Coast communities and watersheds that have taken a beating from the ongoing green rush? Fearing that California’s eventual ballot initiative may otherwise favor industrial-scale grows in the Central Valley, North Coast growers and medical marijuana practitioners are organizing to promote ordinances in Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino counties that support smaller-scale operations as part of an endeavor to influence marijuana policy in the golden state.
We applaud the efforts of many marijuana advocates who are stepping up to bring producers out of the shadows, and into a well-regulated and taxed system. We are encouraged to hear strong voices within the cannabis cultivation community speaking out about environmental impacts at the hands of black-market operations and the need to bring people into compliance with environmental regulations. If crafted right, the ordinances could provide the tools necessary to address environmental damage and promote a local industry that is ecologically, socially, and economically sustainable. However, there is strong pressure to go the other direction by allowing even more, bigger marijuana grows without first addressing existing environmental damage.
Despite many who are advocating for responsible marijuana policy change, there is a vocal contingent of industry representatives who are pushing for even more mega-grows in Humboldt County.
Specifically, they are seeking unconditional approval for operations up to 20,000 sq. ft.—nearly half an acre—regardless of the zoning. In particular, they want to legitimize all existing operations and pave the way for more giant greenhouses on the region’s forestlands—a move that would come at the expense of fish, rivers, and intact forests.
While some marijuana cultivators grow responsibly, many operations are currently causing significant damage to waterways through forest fragmentation, illegal water diversions and unpermitted, erosion-inducing grading practices. It would be a travesty to give a green light to more grows during a time when many of our region’s salmon populations are at a tipping point. We need to repair our watersheds and bring motivated cultivators into a well-regulated system—only then can we begin discussions about increasing the number and size of marijuana operations in our fragile corner of the world.