California’s amazing weather and large population have always made it an ideal place to grow cannabis crops. It was most likely those attributes that led to California becoming the first state to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996. The Golden State supplies two-thirds of the weed for the entire U.S. As promising as this is for the state’s recreational and medical cultivation opportunities, illegal cultivation in remote stretches of California’s vast territory has also seen a surge in activity. This surge poses a threat to ecological and environmental safety.
Law-enforcement agencies are increasingly overwhelmed by the illegal pot farms that are popping up in these once-desolate areas. Raids can drain manpower and resources within departments that are already dealing with limited budgets.
National forests and parks are on heightened alert as illegal grow areas are sprouting up within these areas. Wildlife biologist, Dr. Mourad Gabriel accompanied law-enforcement agents on a marijuana farm to bust illegal growers.
As the executive director of the Integral Ecology Research Center, he is finding that cartels are using poisonous substances to protect their crops from pests and nearby wildlife. The toxic substances pose a threat to the ecology of these areas, as they harm nearby animals, pollute public lands and potentially endanger the end-users of the product.
Carbofuran, a neurotoxic insecticide has been found at cannabis grow sites. The product is banned in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union. In Kenya, farmers have used it to kill off lions. Humans exposed to the pollutant can exhibit symptoms of nausea, blurred vision, miscarriages and even sudden death.
Gabriel’s excursion with law-enforcement results in the discovery of carbofuran in Gatorade bottles at the grow site. Astounded by the carelessness regarding such a harmful substance, Gabriel says, “They just leave these sitting around.”
Gabriel says that fish are also in danger. In 2009, a necropsy performed on a fisher showed that it was killed by a massive dose of toxic acute rodenticide; a substance that is so toxic, it can’t be legally sold in the U.S.
Gabriel has tested 58 fisher carcasses since that time and finds that 80% of them had the toxic rodenticide in their systems. These cases are undoubtedly linked to cannabis growers who use to poisons to prevent rodents from eating the plants.
Craig Thompson, a wildlife ecologist with the United States Forest Service says, “It’s a massive problem.” Thompson sees the dangers on a wider-scale,
People don’t tend to grasp the industrial scale of what’s going on. There are thousands of these sites in places the public thinks are pristine, with obscene amounts of chemicals at each one. Each one is a little environmental disaster.
Gabriel also sees the far-reaching devastation that these contaminants could cause in the near-future. It may only be a matter of time until the poisons have spread into the water supply of nearby towns and cities.
We know it’s happening, we just don’t know the extent, and we don’t know what other chemicals are involved.