Legal pot in California brings environmental rules
December 22, 2017
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.
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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.