By Molly Scott

Cannabis prohibition is damaging the environment in California. Individuals that grow cannabis illegally on private and/or public lands utilize cultivation methods that cause environmental damage.  Sonoma County has been subject to damage from the use of illegal pesticides and rodenticides etc. on illegal cannabis farms and as the years progress the problem only increases.

Founder and president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, Eric Sterling, is persistent that cannabis prohibition is in fact a detriment to our environment, based on research of public and private lands in Sonoma County and The Emerald Triangle. Sterling has found that because of the illicit cannabis grow operations, cultivators are causing mass deforestation, the construction of unapproved unregulated roads and trails, the laying of illegal irrigation piping and diversion of natural water sources, and the use of toxic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and rodenticides (specifically SGARs [second-generation-anticoagulant rodenticide]).

The prohibition of cannabis cultivation contributes to the use of toxic and often illegal herbicides, fertilizers, etc. that cause the hazardous chemicals to be absorbed into the local soil, watersheds, and aquifers with toxic chemicals, waste, and silt.

The use of toxic herbicides, rodenticides, and fertilizers has led to a rapid decline in the population of  Northern California Fisher. Toxicology screenings done on 58 fishers from tribal community forests and public lands in Northern California that took place at University of California Davis revealed that 80% of fishers had been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticide (AR) poisons. The toxicology screenings also revealed that there was an average of 1.6 different kinds of AR poisons in each fisher, with some having up to four separate toxic compounds. The use of illegal and toxic SGARs, pesticides, and herbicides is present in at least 50% of the studied six hundred grow sites in two of seventeen of California’s national forests.

Illicit cultivators will put pesticides in opened tuna and/or sardine cans to kill animals ranging from black bears, to raccoons, to fishers. If growing cannabis were regulated the use of SGARs and other pesticides or rodenticides etc. would be tracked and would be able to be stopped in a timely and nonhazardous fashion.

The prohibition of cannabis also perpetuates the devastation of California’s salmon population. The Federal Government has called for study regarding the effect of illicit cannabis cultivation on the population of salmon that has been threatened in areas commonly used for cultivation.  The areas of rehabilitation that are at the top of the list are the populations of the Eel River, Lake Mendocino, and some from Humboldt County (Anderson 2014). The salmon populations in these areas have already been damaged by logging and now have very limited amounts of water left due to the construction in and around illicit cannabis farms that clogs dams, and the damming and siphoning of water from natural water sources.

Cannabis prohibition also contributes to the devastation of California’s water due to the theft of water from both private and public lands. There are an estimated 300,000 cannabis plants in each of California’s river systems, and with each using an estimated six gallons of water per day, illicit cannabis cultivation is using an estimated 27 million gallons of water during a 150 day growing season.

The prohibition of cannabis directly contributes to the diminishing state of California’s water resources and environment in general, as well as the loss of wildlife like fishers and salmon. The prohibition of cannabis cultivation also contributes to the diminishing amount of water in California due to lack of regulation of water use, simply outlawing cultivation has not curbed water use, but has in fact worsened it. If prohibition on cannabis were lifted, California and Sonoma County’s environments would be exponentially benefited.


Molly Scott is a senior sociology major at Sonoma State University