By Phillip Smith
A bill introduced Thursday by Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA) and bipartisan cosponsors from California and Colorado would create new penalties for marijuana growers who grow on federal lands or who trespass on other people's property to grow and who cause environmental damages. "Trespass grows" are a tempting alternative for growers who seek to avoid having their own properties seized under federal drug asset forfeiture laws.
Growing marijuana on federal lands (or anywhere else, for that matter) is already against federal law, but the cutely-acronymed Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking (PLANT) Act would instruct the US Sentencing Commission to establish new penalties for "trespass grows." The bill identified three environmental concerns: the illegal use of pesticides, rodenticides, or high-grade fertilizers; the "substantial" pilfering of water from local aquifers, and "significant" removal of timber or other vegetation.
Pressed by law enforcement, marijuana growers have increasingly moved onto federal parks and forests, as well as private properties. Last year, in the national forests alone, eradicators cut down nearly a million plants. Officials and landowners accuse growers of leveling hilltops, starting landslides on erosion-prone hillsides, diverting and damming creeks and streams, and using large amounts of pesticides to protect their crops.
"Throughout my district and increasingly throughout the United States, we're seeing trespass marijuana grows threatening endangered wildlife, contaminating fragile salmon streams, and making forests unsafe for working and recreation," said Congressman Huffman, who represents the "Emerald Triangle" of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties in northern California. "As we move toward more rational marijuana policies, which I believe should be left to the states, it's important that we address the immediate threat to our environment and public safety posed by trespass growing operations. Where it is lawful to grow marijuana, it must be done lawfully and responsibly."
"These illegal grow sites are threatening lives, destroying public lands and devastating wildlife," said bill cosponsor Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA). "There should be stiff penalties for the people whose reckless and illegal actions are causing this environmental damage. Our legislation will make sure these criminals are held fully responsible for the harm they cause."
The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.