Sunday, July 26, 2009

If California Legalizes Marijuana for Taxation, What Will the Environmental Effects Be?

California has gotten plenty of attention lately for its budget woes and the prospect of legalizing and taxing marijuana to address those woes. The debate raises some fascinating questions over the effects of drugs; the stigmas (fair or unfair) of marijuana; the role of the state in dealing with marijuana; the prospect certain drugs offer the state; and a broader social re-imagining of marijuana's place in society.

With all the possible effects the legalization of marijuana may have, this article raises some questions that most aren't considering, namely: what will the environmental impact of pot production be if it's legalized and becomes a more lucrative (and easier) business proposition?
Marijuana plantations in remote forests cause severe environmental damage. Indoor grow houses in some towns put rentals beyond the reach of students and young families. Rural counties with declining economies cannot attract new businesses because the available work force is caught up in the pot industry. Authorities link the drug to violent crime in otherwise quiet small towns.

"For those of us who are on the front lines, it's not about pot is bad in itself or drugs are bad," said Meredith Lintott, district attorney in Mendocino County, one of the country's top marijuana-producing regions.

"It's about the negative consequences on children. It's about the negative consequences on the environment."

I don't know if Ms. Lintott is being particularly naive or close-minded here, but I don't know if she isn't, either. At least personally, of all the aspects of this question I've thought about, the environment hasn't been at the forefront. But maybe it should be. What are the environmental consequences on pot production? It's pretty well known that monocrop agricultural production is generally devastating on the environment and the soil - is marijuana any different? Has this even been studied? Will California provide the first case to (legally) study these effects of the market and environment consequences of weed?

To be clear, I am in no way trying to fearmonger or to raise questions designed to undo the legalization efforts. If it works for California, then fine - While I have my own opinion on how drug use should be dealt with and where marijuana fits in that debate, I don't live in California, so if it decides to go through with this, fine, and if not, fine. Still, I think these are interesting questions, and questions that, to my knowledge at least, nobody seems prepared to answer, but that are well worth stopping to think about.