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California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law today a bill that will charge steep fines to marijuana growers who cause environmental damages. It's targeted at the state's increasing number of illegal pot farms, who have wreaked havoc on local wildlife and water supplies.
According to the Los Angeles Times, state agents participated in 250 raids on illegal marijuana operations in California last year, yielding over 600,000 marijuana plants and 15,000 pounds of processed marijuana. It's not just a problem because it interferes with the state's legal marijuana growing operations, but because it's causing massive environmental damages. In one case, a grow site was diverting as much as 1,400 gallons each day from a stream where endangered salmon lived.
It takes a lot of water to grow pot plants, and water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource in California. "Marijuana plants use six to eight gallons of water per plant, per day, and are a direct hazard to wildlife that eats the plants," said California Department of Fish and Wildlife's assistant chief Brian Naslund in a press release last year. Among illegal grow operations, a great deal of that water is siphoned from other sources, which has a huge impact on local environments. The LA Times reported that last year, the state "found more than 135 dams or diversions in rivers and streams that resulted in the theft of about 5 million gallons of water for marijuana grows."
Growing pot also requires flat land, which means grow operations sometimes cut down trees and destroy wildlife habitats to make room for their pot plants; it also causes water pollution to local streams, from chemical pesticides and fertilizer runoff. It's basically an environmental nightmare.
California's new law gives more power to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and prescribes fines up to $40,000 for polluting rivers and streams and fines up to $10,000 for threatening nearby trees or wildlife.