A new project looks to “clean and reclaim” public lands occupied by illicit cannabis operations in an effort to influence new policies addressing California’s trespass grows.
Cannabis Removal on Public Lands, stylized as CROP, is seeking funds to carry out its mission. Grows occupying these lands pose high environmental risks, often wielding toxic chemicals and diverting water from nearby streams.
For lands that comprise 45% of California’s land area, the problem doesn’t get enough attention, CROP director Rich McIntyre said.
“When you look at the sheer numbers — the fact, for instance, that 92% of mountain lions in the state have been poisoned by rodenticides — you realize this is something the public needs to know about.”
The project is expected to be funded mostly by private foundations. It will enlist organizations to clean up illicit grows, in a “reclamation” of the state’s public lands. For a state whose legal cannabis industry has been plagued by the stubborn persistence of an illegal market, project officials say the effort is essential.
“We have received broad, unanimous support from the cannabis industry,” said regional director Jackee Riccio. “The illicit market is undercutting the legal market, impeding jobs and the ability to create more farms.”
Natalynne Delapp of the Humboldt County Growers Alliance offered support for CROP, saying it keeps cannabis consumers use products “free of dangerous chemicals.”
The project has also received support from the nearby Karuk Tribe and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.
CROP is just a start; state policies need to go after illegal farms, McIntyre said.
“We think the penalties for growing on public lands could be much greater than they are right now,” McIntyre said. “For someone who brings banned toxic chemicals to a public land… the penalties should be kicked up to different level.”
If a grower poisoning wildlife faced an automatic sentence of five years in jail, more people “would think twice about it,” he added, especially since some of the toxic substances used on public lands are illegal in the United States.
Locally, the Integral Ecology Research Center, a Blue Lake-based nonprofit, leads efforts to reclaim public lands from illicit grows. The projects can often be risky: Trespass growers often use firearms to protect their operation or leave chemicals exposed in order to dissuade law enforcement, McIntyre said.
Since these grows often pop up in isolated areas, he added, the dangers of these grows aren’t widely understood.
“A bright light has never been shined on (the problem) before,” McIntyre said. “We’re hoping to change that.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.