Legal pot in California brings environmental rules
SACRAMENTO — At a state briefing on environmental rules that await growers entering California’s soon-to-be-legal marijuana trade, organic farmers Ulysses Anthony, Tracy Sullivan and Adam Mernit listened intently, eager to make their humble cannabis plot a model of sustainable agriculture in a notoriously destructive industry dominated by the black market.
In line with a 2017 study that found marijuana grows are more damaging, plot for plot, than commercial logging in Northern California forests, Anthony said he has seen too many destructive grows. Trash-strewn clearings. Growers heaping fertilizer at the foot of a centuries-old sequoia tree, needlessly endangering it. Wild streams diverted for irrigation.
“It really bothers me when I see some of the other operations, the treatment of the land,” he said.
He came from Northern California’s remote Lake County with his two business partners for the state-run seminar on just some of the water regulations pot growers must follow when California — the United States’ biggest economy, and biggest producer by far in the underground U.S. cannabis market — legalizes recreational marijuana for licensed and permitted growers and sellers in the New Year.
Complying with water laws alone would mean daily record-keeping, permit applications, inspections and more, state officials said.
Hopes are that legalization will help rein in environmental damage from black-market grows, much of it in Northern California old-growth forests. But early signs are that only a fraction of growers are applying for permits immediately as recreational marijuana becomes legal here.
It’s impossible to know exactly how many growers statewide are planning to go legal, two years after Californians voted to legalize recreational marijuana starting in 2018.
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