When helicopters, SWAT teams, and local police descended on California’s Emerald Triangle last week and yanked out nearly 100,000 pot plants, the notable absence of the DEA had some folks scratching their heads.
According to the Times-Standard, the so-called “raid of the decade” was prompted by “evidence of massive water theft and other environmental violations.”
The police, who said it was as much a water raid as a pot raid, claimed growers were illegally using some 500,000 gallons of water a day from the nearby Eel river, now stagnant and moss-ridden.
Mother Jones magazine pointed out that, as attitudes towards pot evolve, a shift in enforcement focus toward environmental issues is to be expected in northern California where many growers draw water from sensitive mountain streams and headwaters.
However, Hezekiah Allen, director of the Emerald Growers Association, scoffs at the notion the raid was environmentally motivated. “This isn’t about the environment; this is about business as usual,” noting that reservoirs at grow sites could be eco-friendly winter water storage sites to be used during the summer growing season. He also questioned the value of criminal raids just when the California Water Board is drafting a system of water-use permits and civil fines for pot farmers.
“There are 2,200 un-permitted water diversions for wine grapes in the Central Valley, I’m curious when we’re going to see the sheriff show up and chop down un-permitted vines. We are asking to be treated like any other crop.”
The raid, however, does portend that once pot is legalized in California, even the most eco-conscious cannabis farmers will be subjected to agricultural inspections.
Allen argues that cannabis farming in the Emerald Triangle can be sustainable if growers cultivate drought-tolerant Kush varieties from Afghanistan, then irrigate with rainwater they’ve collected and stored. He called pot cultivation one of the most adaptable, resource-efficient ways of generating revenue for small farms
“If we step back and take a look at this industry and the jobs it creates, California cannot afford not to grow cannabis in the 21st century.”