Illegal marijuana growers in California have a new—and possibly unexpected adversary—to deal with. The California State Water Resources Control Board is now cracking down on illegal grow sites. And this crackdown is spreading, as the water control board’s cannabis team has now started operating in Southern California in addition to Northern California.
The Cannabis Enforcement Unit of California’s Water Control Board
Four years ago, California’s Water Control Board launched a new unit. Known as the Cannabis Enforcement Unit, this task force focused on finding illegal marijuana grow sites that could pose risks to local water supplies.
Initially, the unit was only in Northern California. And for good reason. Northern California is legendary for its illegal cannabis grows. In fact, the region around Humboldt County is nicknamed “The Emerald Triangle” as a result of all the weed-growing activity in the area.
After those first four years, the Cannabis Enforcement Unit moved south. More specifically, the agency started operating in Southern California. According to local news sources, the unit started its SoCal operations in 2017.
Today, the unit functions in many of California’s most popular growing spots. And the unit has moved to the front of a growing crackdown on illegal growers.
Cannabis Cultivation and Water
Cannabis cultivation has long been linked to various environmental problems, especially ones related to water. These problems are particularly bad at illegal grow sites.
Many times, growers use a variety of chemicals. These can include fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides. Often, these additives leach into nearby water supplies. When this happens, it can poison bodies of water, harming fish and animals that downstream.
Similarly, some of the pesticides used by illegal growers are poisonous to animal populations. For example, the Pacific fisher has been particularly harmed by illegal grow sites. Pesticides and other chemicals have killed large numbers of the animal, which is currently endangered.
Further, some illegal growers divert rivers, streams, or other waterways in order to water their plants. This can disrupt local ecologies. More broadly, it can also disrupt regional water agreements among farmers and other water users.
There are other ecological concerns associated with marijuana growers. This is especially true when it comes to issues having to do with water. And all of these concerns are exacerbated in California since many parts of the state regularly deal with drought conditions.
Weed Farmers Are Being Held To Higher Standards
The state of California has recognized all these potential problems. In fact, this was the main impetus for creating the Water Control Board Cannabis Enforcement Unit.
Further, water laws remain one of the few ways that law enforcement can tag illegal growers with a felony. Since weed became legal, many cannabis laws have been loosened. In many cases, this also includes a more lax approach to enforcing rules about cannabis cultivation.
But illegal growing poses such a threat to water that growers can still be charged with felonies that have to do with environmental damage. At this point, it’s not so much the actual weed growing that will get people in trouble. In many cases, illegal growers are more likely to be charged with a water-related environmental damage crime.