Pot: Not so green after all?

By Shannon Service

California’s marijuana industry is worth an estimated $14 billion. But large marijuana growing operations — most of which are illegal — are polluting local ecosystems on an industrial scale in rural counties and places as unlikely as state parks.

The cultural secrecy around the illegal product means diesel spills go unreported, spikes in electricity overlooked and gallons of toxic pesticides wash into rivers and creeks. And without tax revenue from marijuana, state agencies struggle to find funds for cleanup.

In this video, reporter Kate McLean investigates pot pollution in California.

Although some growing operations, or “grows,” are authorized for medical marijuana production under a 1996 state law, most are illegal. Drug cartels raise plants beneath bushy overgrowth in state parks right under the noses of law enforcement, and throughout the state, pot gardens are squirreled away inside trailers, closets, attics, basements and spare bedrooms.

Marijuana has sprung up in one-third of California’s state parks and 40 percent of national forests over the past decade, according to a Mother Jones article published last year. Farming pot on public land is more lucrative than smuggling it across an increasingly militarized Mexican border, they reported.

Much of marijuana’s environmental impact stems from the huge amount of light needed to grow plants indoors, where they can thrive year round hidden from law enforcement. Some growers power their giant “grow lights” with electricity from the grid. But those in more rural locations use large diesel generators for power, often shoddy and homemade, which are huge risks for fires and spills.

In Northern California’s Humboldt County, authorities estimate that over 1,000 gallons of diesel have spilled so far in just one stream, which like many others is the only water source for those who live downstream. Off the grid and out of cell range, many neighbors don’t have phones and receive word of water pollution late — if at all. Even with the inherent dangers, neighbors are reluctant to report the spills fearing blow back from nearby pot farmers who are also often friends.

On-grid grows carry another set of problems. Marijuana growers use an estimated 90 million kilowatt hours per year, “about 70 times the total output of all the solar panels in the county… enough to power 13,000 typical homes,” a recent Humboldt State University report found. The extra electricity pumps an estimated 40,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year, as much as 7,000 cars — and that’s just in one county.

The ecological harms of marijuana reach well beyond the buzzing homes of Northern California. In state and national parks, growers clear native vegetation, use illegal pesticides and chemicals on the pot plants, divert precious water from streams and often kill bears and other animals that threaten their operation.

A recent clean up of a grow site just outside Yosemite National Park uncovered miles of irrigation piping that drew creek water to the marijuana plants. Bags of fertilizers and chemicals were found strewn around the growers’ campsite. But according to a park official at the scene, this site was relatively mild. Hundreds of similar scenes dot California’s parks and wild places — a relatively recent phenomenon that seems to grow with each passing year.

Detecting and cleaning up spills and illegal marijuana camps is complex. In addition to scarce funding, law enforcement officials face jurisdictional issues. The job is largely left to a handful of trail crews with huge swaths of ground to cover.

 
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Comments

  • Gary Ogletree

    A legal open market would reduce the crimes, pollution and drug war expense. It’s not the government’s business to prohibit the medical and recreational use of an herb that Americans enjoyed legally until the last century. It is the government’s business to discourage youth from becoming pot zombies with an honest education program. I guess we are zig zagging our way to that, waiting for honest political leadership.

  • Michael Jewitt

    Very Interesting!

  • Abagail Reamer

    I agree Gary, Thank you

  • Jaime

    Great article, Shannon!

  • Tucker

    The land of the free would be nice if true but there’s to much CONTROL in (USA) substance for instance! we the people stand divided as HELL not FREE what it’s soposed to be hell save a tree hemp will make paper, clothes all kinds of EVIL MONEY the MAN on one DOLLAR BILL smoked WEED hell they even printed the dam bill of rights on hemp paper !

  • Ned Hoey

    We have here a story pointing at the real problems caused by UNREGULATED cannabis production. The problem with this story is that it treats the problem extremely difficult to solve. “Gosh, these people grow cannabis in reckless and damaging ways. What can we do?”

    Well why do they do it?

    For the extreme high value and easy saleability that prohibition gives cannabis? Also because it is relatively low risk. The vast majority of the people who try, do make money, most are never arrested. It is impossible to eradicate cannabis production. There are too many ways, to many places, and there will never be enough law enforcement capability to be everywhere, watch everywhere etc to stop it. So year after year, decade after decade, this goes on.

    Now if you think using it is a bad thing to do, fine. However, reasonable people disagree. What problems you might think cannabis causes in society, separate use from production and sales.
    There are problems from both, but there is a way to eliminate the problems that aren’t actually necessary. Those are the problems from production and sales. They are caused by the illegality, the prohibition of cannabis. We can’t stop the use, but we can re-regulate it, make it legal, license producers and distributors, devalue it, excise and sales tax it. Doing this will bring everything above ground. If licensed commercial growers are allowed to produce it in a way similar to wine,
    the retail price will plummet to dollars per oz. Just like beer and wine most people will just buy commercial product from the licensed seller. All this growing will cease. Money saved fighting it,
    crime connected to it ends, better more effective control of it, and revenue to the state from the already ongoing tax free economic activity.

    Why doesn’t this reporter point out the obvious real solution? Why is the only acceptable perspective the one that says we have to continue futility? The effects of cannabis when used by humans just isn’t dramatic or dangerous enough to begin to justify what we do around it now. Even if you think it is a very bad thing, why not limit the harm to the use itself by legalizing it. Then all there is to do is educate people not to use it, and most won’t. People are using now but it is creating all these other problems that are avoidable.

  • Fasten Bulbous

    Right on, Ned.
    There is a seldom mentioned downside to legalization however. The sudden surplus of law enforcement agents at all levels of government, who have never been trained to do anything but terrorize pot farmers, What are we going to do with all these people?

  • rkt

    while i’m by no means arguing against legalization, i fail to see how legal big commercial farming has benefited any ecosystems in recent years.

  • Mike

    This article is lunacy. The only reason these ILLEGAL grow operations are using diesel generators is because they’re portable and you can walk away from them once they’re running. If it wasn’t illegal to grow cannabis, you’d just use electric powered lamps which can be generated by solar, wind, tidal, hydroelectric. Whatever the power company is using, basically (probably coal).

    An ACCURATE headline would be “Diesel: Not so Green After All”.

  • Tucker T

    Don’t this country realize there is now much bigger crap going on in the world than an ongoing enmity with pot. Hell legalize 100% grow outside using the natural sun and same chemical pesticides that grows most other farm crops in our nation or the world.Hell you people that is bothered by negatives caused by pot farming need to scratch their head and remember there’s a hell of allot of oil or natural gas streaming into the gulf of Mexico every day pot farmers did not cause it. A bunch of greedy billionaire’s is at fault. its just messed up were allowed by law to drink alcohol & smoke cigarettes but are not free to choose our own choice. Why don’t we understand the meaning of freedom? I think i know the world is to worried about 4 things that will in the end bring about the end.1money-equity 2world politics-governments 3 education-school 4 various religions these are the four hidden dynasties or horses of apocalypse these are the four things that will bring the end the world worships these things more than the 1 creator (GOD) it is what it is.I just want to self treat indulge in my own country that is supposed to be free. instead we have a united hypocrisy! Not Democracy why?LIES,LIES.LIES, I trust in GOD I study his word i do not believe he will send me to hell for smoking pot any more then smoking a nicotine cigarette. He might hold it against my terrestrial health but I doubt many people know, teach or even care about the heavenly father’s health laws LEVITICUS chapter 11 pork is bad for your health it may kill you if you eat enough hell a pig is a scavenger put here by god almighty to clean the earth they do not sweat, they eat there own crap they would eat there own dead if allowed ! hey look at NASA spends billions to go space why to mess the atmosphere, waste or misuse money that could make world better for WE the miraculous organic variety of life. BUT ANY WAY THE FREE WORLD IS AGAINST POT SINCE 1937 A GROUP OF MORON MORMONS DECIDED AGAINST AND ALMIGHTY ALCOHOL AGAINST THIS THING CALLED THE FREEDOM OF CHOICE REALLY MESSED UP IT’S TIME TO LEGALIZE NATION WIDE AND REALLY START TO LET FREEDOM RING!

  • Tucker T

    YOUR RIGHT MIKE! I AGREE WITH YOU.

  • MANMAN S.

    I Agree with Gary all the way.

  • Richard

    While a majority of this segment on Pot was well constructed, I have a bone to pick with the Need team and another one with the American people and their politicians.

    First, in this segment you interviewed a gentleman from FAIR and you did not tell us that FAIR is listed as a racist group at SPLC masking as an Immigration Reform group. <>
    Please do research those you intend to interview especially when it has anything to do with immigration, race and ethnicity. Thank you.

    Many years ago Dr. Andrew Weil was Congress’s authority on drug and drug abuse, and he wrote “The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at Drugs and the Higher Consciousness”. He also wrote a number of books on WHY and the many ways HOW people get high (chocolate, chili peppers, walking on hot coals anyone?).

    As the American people decided back in the days of Al Capone and Eliot Ness and G(ov)-Men, who slugged it out with Tommy-guns, the cost to society of trying to legislate AGAINST something that all cultures around the world do, i.e. try to change their consciousness, WAS NOT WORTH IT! And thus the people came to their senses and repealed Prohibition after 14 years of failure in the “War on Alcohol”. Have we decades later learned from their experience? Obviously not, because Americans are more obsessed with drugs of any sort than they were then (witness the size and number of drug and liquor stores – and now pot stores – and the thousands of ads and commercials for their wares).

    Trying to stop people from changing their consciousness, whether it is spinning around getting dizzy as a child, or sniffing glue, speaking in tongues, or looking for that perfect orgasm, is the most Sisyphean challenge one can attempt. To do so as Federal Policy, only shows the ignorance of a majority of politicians. Unfortunately, our xenophobic leaders in Washington, D.C. are unlikely to look and see what other countries have done to deal with their “drug problem”

    .

  • Clint Fisher

    Isn’t it amazing how misleading the headline of this “report” is?

    It should read: “ILLEGAL pot growing: Not always green”.

    Given the choice, no cannabis consumer wants poisonous pesticides in their product.

    Legal growers would have no reason to use diesel generators.

    Legalize cannabis, and these problems pretty much go away.

    PBS, please stop distorting the truth in order to further advance the failed drug war.

  • http://www.responsiblecommenting.com/?p=87 Marijuana Pollution « responsiblecommenting.com

    [...] local ecosystems on an industrial scale in rural counties and places as unlikely as state parks." ["Need to Know" on PBS] Idea of the Day Tagged as: Marijuana, Pollution Leave a comment Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) ( [...]

  • Fred

    Waste of time and Money. CA neeeds TAX REVNUE————– GET IT?

  • Sativa Air

    THat is true. I personally believe that smoking illigal marijuana is unsafe. It is unregulated.

  • Sativa Air

    THat is true. I personally believe that smoking illigal marijuana is unsafe. It is unregulated.

  • http://www.largepot.net Large Pot

    Yep! I was agreed, I’ll keep in touch to your blog. This blog is so usefully, Thanks for the posted ;)

  • Anonymous

    The active ingredient in marijuana is called THC. This is the substance
    that causes a ‘high’. Marijuana that is used for smoking usually
    consists of dried and shredded leaves of the hemp plant; the stems,
    seeds and flowers are also used. Dried marijuana is usually green, gray
    or brown in color and often has the structure of tobacco.


    Marijuana Addiction

  • http://www.largepot.net/large-pot/what-is-the-ideal-herb-garden-planter/ Large Planter Pot

    I’ll post the same information to my blog, thanks for
    ideas and great article.

  • JST Books

    There are a number of different ways you can tell if someone has a problem with alcohol. Alcohol abusers generally begin to smell like alcohol over extended periods of use because their bodies are trying to get rid of the substance via the pores. People with alcohol problems tend to hide alcohol and bottoms in places they think other people may not look.
    Intervention

  • Wakeup

    Yes, if it’s LEGAL, but it’s not! So, at the present time, anyone who smokes pot is taking in countless carcinogenic chemicals and growth hormones AND polluting the environment. Sure, legalizing it would make things better for Pot smokers AND the environment, but at the present time, it is illegal, VERY hazardous to your health and VERY bad for the environment. This article doesn’t even mention how much DDT is used in pot. That stuff is carcinogenic at one part ber billion.

  • Wiseone

    TWO wrongs don’t make a RIGHT you moron,

  • Wiseman

    People are DUMB ENOUGH! Pot smokers in general, are FAR below the median IQ to begin with. We need tough laws that WORK! LONG prison terms for pot growers AND pot smokers. After all THEY create the need for this crap. Drunk drivers are NOTHING compared to people driving while on pot Countless studies have PROVEN that your reflexes are FAR worse when high on pot than on alcohol. Liberals make the MOST laws that take rights away from people, but BOY when THEY want something, they will come up with ANY ignorant reason to legalize it. I say kill them all and let God sort them out.

  • Anon ymous

    its quite the opposite, there are more accidents due to alcohol then marijuana, you need laws that ban alchool and legalize the growing of marijuana. The alchool industry does way more damage then the illegal marijuana industry that we force in existence.
    GOD does not exist, if such an extraterrestrial would exist you sure wouldnt.

  • http://www.facebook.com/connoririas Connor Irias

    Dear Wiseman, until you can show me empirical evidence to support your claims about “the median IQ” and alcohol-vs-marijuana impairment, you will forever be a dumb-ass in my book. PS: What’s YOUR IQ?

  • Jim

    LMAO!!!!

  • Jim

    LMAO!!!!

  • http://www.hanfplantage.de/gefahrdete-spezies-neueste-kollateralschaden-krieg-gegen-drogen-29-07-2012 Gefährdete Spezies der neueste Kollateralschaden im “Krieg gegen die Drogen”

    [...] sich die Gärtner die tiefsten Wälder, bauen das Gras auf öffentlichen Ländereien oder in den Naturschutzparks an. Unregulierte Gärtner haben kein Interesse, Umweltschäden zu vermeiden die durch diese [...]

  • Anonymous

    You have nothing to back your claims.  Prohibition is dying because no one believes your lies anymore.  States are legalizing medical marijuana one by one, and there is nothing you can do about it. Newt Gingrich tried to legalize medical marijuana back in 1981, and he is not a liberal. “I say kill them all”  Go ahead and we’ll see you in jail, Jerk.

  • Blatantcan

    Alright crusader. Low median IQ? Check this out.

    In statistics and probability theory, median is described as the numerical value separating the higher half of a sample, a population, or a probability distribution, from the lower half. The median of a finite list of numbers can be found by arranging all the observations from lowest value to highest value and picking the middle one. If there is an even number of observations, then there is no single middle value; the median is then usually defined to be the mean of the two middle values. 

    I’m pretty sure you mean average. People don’t really measure IQ’s as relative to the median, as the median is something used more strictly for smaller samples. I’m sure nobody is trying to order every recorded IQ from lowest to highest. So… Clearly you’re an authority on the topic. You’re going to hell. Seriously, you’re going to hell.

  • Blatantcan

    Alright crusader. Low median IQ? Check this out.

    In statistics and probability theory, median is described as the numerical value separating the higher half of a sample, a population, or a probability distribution, from the lower half. The median of a finite list of numbers can be found by arranging all the observations from lowest value to highest value and picking the middle one. If there is an even number of observations, then there is no single middle value; the median is then usually defined to be the mean of the two middle values. 

    I’m pretty sure you mean average. People don’t really measure IQ’s as relative to the median, as the median is something used more strictly for smaller samples. I’m sure nobody is trying to order every recorded IQ from lowest to highest. So… Clearly you’re an authority on the topic. You’re going to hell. Seriously, you’re going to hell.

  • Blatantcan

    Your claims are blatant lies. There is no truth in any of this. There is not one relevant study that depicts these claims. Good job.

  • Blatantcan

    Your claims are blatant lies. There is no truth in any of this. There is not one relevant study that depicts these claims. Good job.