Black-market growers threaten forests by growing marijuana

Published Jul 16, 2019 11:53 a.m. ET
iStock / Vera Tikhonova

Now that legal marijuana is an option for many Canadians and Americans, it can be difficult to imagine that the black market is still thriving in a manner that could be a potential harm to the surrounding environment, but despite the introduction of new legislation, many consumers have chosen to stick with what they know, which are illegal products.

Though it sounds innocent enough, planting a hundred or two marijuana plants in a nearby bush to make some quick cash, the devastation that happens to the surrounding areas is nothing short of terrifying. A lot of people are worried about those who are growing marijuana outdoors too close to where they grow their crops, which can create issues of cross-pollination, but this problem gets so much darker than that.

Where is this happening?

Technically, this is a problem that can and does happen anywhere in the world, but the region that appears to be suffering the most is California’s emerald triangle, which is considered to be the hub of black market cannabis growing.

How do we know?

It all started with an organization called the Integral Ecology Research Center, which was tasked with the challenge of figuring out what was happening to the local fisher’s population. An endangered species that are native to the area, that relies on a mature forest to thrive. It didn’t take long for researchers to find the cause, which was a man-made poison. This discovery triggered more extensive research into where the toxins were coming from, as they are not naturally occurring. After plenty of communicating with other wildlife specialists, it came to light that the cause of the sudden drop of fisher numbers was due to a significant presence of black market cannabis growers using poisonous chemicals, and the fishers weren’t the only ones adversely impacted. Some of the other affected animal species went initially unnoticed since they were not all being so closely monitored. Some of them include the northern spotted owl, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, and grey foxes.

Why does growing marijuana outdoors pose a threat to local wildlife and nature?

One, two, or even ten growers planting a handful of plants for a personal crop is not the issue. The trouble occurs, when large drug trafficking organizations with no regard for the surrounding nature grow thousands of marijuana plants in the bush as the extent that they are willing to go to to protect their crops are beyond any real or normal or average. Some larger animals being baited and intentionally poisoned. Others are being adversely impacted in a couple of different ways. The first is through direct poisoning from coming into contact with toxic pesticides and fertilizers like karyopherin that is used for its cost effectiveness. The second is the long-term effects on an ecosystem that leaves many animals starving as their food sources die off, or homeless as areas are clear cut and killed to prepare for planting.

What is being done to stop it?

These black market growers pose a danger to much more than the local wildlife, as they often guard their crops with heavy firepower, and even set traps which impede on the ability of law enforcement to conduct a raid in any safe manner. However, there are many officers and specialists that are putting their lives on the line in the name of mother nature, and these operations are slowly being shut down. The problem is that the financial motivation is much too high, and they seem to appear faster than they can be taken out.

Is this only a problem in California?

No. Though the area is one of the most documented and active, that is only because of the vast forested area within it. This can happen anywhere, including the small bush in your local neighborhood. Anyone can poison the earth and wildlife using illegal chemicals, and the fact that there are so many different options make it even more difficult. A first-time grower isn’t going to have any idea about fertilizers and using the wrong ones can hurt the environment. An experienced illegal large-scale marijuana grower probably isn’t going to care at all about the possible impacts and is more likely to make a decision based on the cost, which always results in more dangerous options. This is why we now have so many banned chemicals that at one time were mass distributed. We lived, and we learned, and we changed our ways after realizing the error in it. Unfortunately, many of them are still widely available today by merely crossing a border.

Is there anything you can do to stop it?

Though we would never recommend seeking out these types of people or operations for yourself, it is always a good idea to take a regular survey of any bush areas that you live near. If you do spot something that appears to be out of place, then contact your local law enforcement immediately to make a report. The last thing that we can all do to keep our surrounding environments chemical free is always to be cautious of the types of nutrients and fertilizers that we choose to use in our everyday gardens, as well as our cannabis crops. We are already experiencing a near crisis hit to the bee population, and many more species are sure to follow if this trend is continued.

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