The latest boost to anti-cannabis propaganda comes from California's crippling drought. The drought is no joke. For the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project has cut off the flow to towns and farmland because there simply isn't enough water. But is cannabis a major factor here? An April 10 report on the Weather Channel, "Marijuana: Another Contributor to California's Drought," reads: "Along the coast of Northern California, where there are thousands of pot plants hydrated by a single, stressed water source, each plant requires as much as six gallons of water per day in the summer months... As an already extensive drought likely gets even more dire this summer, marijuana farms are going to guzzle up a lot of the state's water if dry, sunny conditions persist." Compare this with rice -- a key crop of California's heavily-irrigrated Central Valley, and one of the world's most water-intensive crops, at some 435,000 gallons per acre per year according to a UC Davis study. Not counting water lost due to irrigation inefficiencies. Cannabis is water-thrifty in comparison. Also highly water-intensive is another key California crop, alfalfa -- used almost entirely as an animal feed. As Scientific American noted, "The relatively low-value crop uses up about a quarter of California's irrigation water but contributes only four percent to the state's total farm revenue." Not to mention the water-profligate suburban sprawl in the interior deserts of Southern California, complete with private swimming pools and year-round emerald-green golf courses. Pointing to cannabis almost seems designed as a distraction from some far more critical points.
The report especially focuses on illegal growing, stating that "those who grow without following the rules and regulations of the legal business have been caught stealing water from other farmers to fuel their thirsty industry." California's Rep. John Garamendi is quoted complaining: "They're using the water illegally. They're using the land illegally. They're growing an illegal product. And they're probably protecting that product with illegal weapons." OK, well there's an obvious answer to this dilemma: legalize the stuff.
The Weather Channel also links to a National Public Radio report, wittily entitled "California's Pot Farms Could Leave Salmon Runs Truly Smoked." NPR states: "According to critics, marijuana plantations guzzle enormous amounts of water while also spilling pesticides, fertilizers and stream-clogging sediments into waterways, including the Eel and the Klamath rivers, that have historically produced large numbers of Chinook salmon and related species." The report quotes Dave Bitts, a Humboldt County commercial fisherman and the president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations: "The whole North Coast is being affected by these pot growers. I have nothing against people growing dope, but if you do, we want you to grow your crop in a way that doesn't screw up fish habitat. There is no salmon-bearing watershed at this point that we can afford to sacrifice."
This is a legitimate concern, which North Coast environmentalists have been raising the alarm about for a few years now. And responsible cannabis advocates in groups like the Emerald Growers Association have been pushing for industry standards for eco-friendly cannabis.
But again -- lifting the legal pressure on the herb is a prerequisite for regulation and enforcement of environmental standards. And using cannabis as a scapegoat for California's unsustainable water-voracious economy and infrastructure is pretty transparent to anyone who is paying close attention. As is using the drought as a convenient excuse to further demonize the herb. The Weather Channel does give the last word to Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML: "Basically, this is a case of marijuana being blamed for much more than it is responsible for." To say the least.