California Weed: Unintended Consequences

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There’s a new conflict emerging in California as a result of the medical marijuana economy: Growers are damaging the environment in pursuit of profits.

According to the New York Times, marijuana growers who supply the medical marijuana market are using toxic agents as pesticides and for vermin eradication. And some of those poisons are making their way into the surrounding wildlife.

Endangering California's Prized Wildlife

The Pacific Fisher, a cute little guy in the weasel family, may become the poster-child for the problem. One recently turned up dead, and a necropsy showed the cause was a blood thinner used to poison rodents. Marijuana growers use this type of poison (warfarin) to kill rats and mice that would otherwise damage their crops. The Times reports that six other fishers have been found poisoned. Researchers also found the same toxins in endangered owls.

The controversy stems from citizen reactions to ecological harms in a state that prizes its wildlife. But the legal situation with marijuana makes it difficult to regulate. State law allows medical marijuana patients and caregivers to grow some plants, but wholesale farming isn’t allowed. And all marijuana production is still illegal at the federal level. The combination of these factors keeps larger plots in a legal gray area, where they adopt the quick and dirty techniques of outright illegal operators. In this context, poisoning wildlife takes a distant second to avoiding police and prosecution.

What may be worse, at least for the growers involved, is that the marijuana-using community has a tradition of environmental awareness. They even promote cannabis as a healthy and “natural” treatment for their ills. Keen to support an organic and sustainable lifestyle, the idea that their weed purchases are contributing to the deaths of endangered species is upsetting. So the very community that derides pot regulations as an infringement on its freedoms finds itself wanting more regulations on how its marijuana is produced.

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