Drones Getting Legislative Support For Spotting Illegal Grows in California

Drones may be used soon to track down illicit California grows, with federal backing.

A House committee is backing federal efforts to track down illicit grows on public lands in California. This will become a reality if issues around cybersecurity and domestic production can be resolved so that the drones can be fully trusted to carry out their mission. 

While drones looking for grows is not a new idea, the language is different this year, as newly discovered grows have brought more attention to how many cannabis farms can pop up on public land under the radar. 

“The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California,” the report claimed. “These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites.”

“The Committee also supports the Department of the Interior’s use of drones to conduct statewide remote-sensing surveys of federal public lands to identify grow sites and allow for the development of cost estimates for reclamation after concerns about cybersecurity, technology, and domestic production have been addressed,” it added. 

So far, the report doesn’t get into cybersecurity issues, including technology and domestic production, but last year, Chinese-made drones were grounded because of the risk they cause to cybersecurity and U.S. security in general. 

The committee may now be looking to get drones that are produced in the U.S., since they will be used to carry out surveillance over legal cannabis operations near public lands and illegal ones popping up on public lands. Growing communities like those in Humboldt County could be caught on the drones, as they border federal lands, so their rights have to be considered as well. 

Drones as New Technology 

As of now, it’s unclear exactly what is going to happen with this legislation, but drone language is new to this report and has not shown up in previous years. It also differs from past fiscal years because it focuses on California. Reports have also mentioned other states like Kentucky. 

Some of the major players behind this legislation are Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), who chairs the Appropriations Interior & Environment Subcommittee, and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), a ranking member on the panel and a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. So far, none have been available for comment. 

In general, the committee is seeking to control “unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil and wildlife.”

The report also fails to address the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general, who complained back in 2018 that the Forest Service is not doing its part cleaning up illicit grow sites after they finished destroying the plants they discovered. This can pose a threat to wildlife and create conditions that would start wildfires. 

This year, the House is working on funding legislation to back many of the bills that have cannabis-related provisions. Some of them are like this bill, which aim to limit and clean up illegal grows, while others are more focused on regulation and legislation. 

Last week, the chamber approved a transportation bill that included a provision allowing researchers access to cannabis from dispensaries in states where cannabis is legal. This will help with studying impaired driving so that strategies to actually detect high driving versus someone who has used cannabis in the past month or so can be developed. 

Additionally, some spending bills were approved last week that deal with cannabis policy issues, focusing on immigration, eligibility for cannabis use, military veterans working in the industry, and other considerations around legal cannabis. Other bills were approved that deal with banking for cannabis business, cannabis use by federal employees and recreational cannabis in Washington, D.C. 

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