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California Endures Another Summer of Outdoor Marijuana Raids [FEATURE]

It's August in California, and that means the state's multi-billion outdoor marijuana crop is ripening in the fields. It also means that the nearly 30-year-old effort to uproot those plants, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), is once taking up its Sisyphean task of wiping out the crop. The choppers are flying, the SWAT teams are deploying, and the federal funds that largely feed CAMP are being burned through.

marijuana eradication helicopter
The raids are nearly a daily event in the Golden State at this time of year. CAMP spokesperson Michelle Gregory told the Chronicle Wednesday that the campaign had uprooted 2.27 million pot plants as of this week, slightly behind the 2.4 million uprooted by this time last year. Last year was a CAMP record, with 4.4 million plants seized by year's end.

"It's about the same this year," said Gregory.

In just the past couple of weeks, CAMP and associated law enforcement agencies pulled up 91,000 plants in Santa Barbara County, 48,000 plants in Sonoma County, and 21,000 plants in Calaveras County. So far this year, in Mendocino County alone, more than 470,000 plants have been destroyed.

The enforcement effort has also led to the deaths of at least three growers this year. A worker at a grow in Napa County was killed early last month when he pointed a gun at police. Another worker at a grow in Santa Clara County was killed two weeks ago. And last week, police in Mendocino County killed a third grower they encountered holding a rifle during an early morning raid.

While the number of deaths this year is high -- one grower was killed in Lassen County last year, one was killed in Humboldt County in 2007, and two were killed in Shasta County in 2003 -- there have also been other violent incidents. Last month, somebody shot out the rear window of a Mendocino County Sheriff's vehicle as it left a grow raid in the western part of the county, and police in Lake County encountered an armed grower there, but he fled.

CAMP and other law enforcement efforts may destroy as much as 25% of the state's outdoor harvest, but it is unclear what real impact the program is having. Prices for outdoor marijuana have been dropping in California for the past year, the availability of pot remains high, and use levels appear unchanged.

Bureau of Land Management agents recording a
marijuana field's location using GPS
"To point out the obvious, in almost 30 years, CAMP has been unable to reduce marijuana use or availability," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "All it does is pay for law enforcement officers to go out in the woods and pull weeds. Every year, they find more and more, and that just motivates illegal growers to plant more."

"CAMP is an enormous waste of money -- I've even heard law enforcement refer to this as helicopter rides," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli of the Drug Policy Alliance in Los Angeles. "It's fun for them, but spending this money on that doesn't do any good, and that's a shame when we're in such dire budgetary shape on all levels."

"I think we are making a difference," said CAMP spokesperson Gregory. "There are still plants out there, but at the same time, the way we look at it, they are willing to defend their grow sites, so we're obviously impacting them monetarily."

Gregory blamed Mexico drug trafficking organizations for much of the illicit production, but was unable to cite specific prosecutions linked to them. She also cited environmental damage done to national parks and forests by illicit grows.

"Nobody wants our national parks and forests to be turned into illegal marijuana grows," said Dooley-Sammuli, "but the question is what is the best approach. The more we spend on CAMP, the more helicopter rides and gardening projects we get, but marijuana prices don't go up, and there is no measurable impact on availability. What we do get is increased violence in the national parks. The government should be looking at how best to reduce illegal grows," said Dooley-Sammuli. "One way would be to allow lawful cultivation as part of a regulated market."

Deputies prepare to repel out of helicopter into a marijuana grow (Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office via SB Independent Weekly)
The US Justice Department is spending nearly $3.6 billion this year to augment budgets of state and local law-enforcement agencies. In addition, the federal government last year set aside close to $4 billion of the economic-stimulus package for law-enforcement grants for state and local agencies. The White House also is spending about $239 million this year to fund local drug-trafficking task forces. In California, many of those task forces work with CAMP.

One approach to defanging CAMP is to work to cut off the federal funding spigot. Since it is largely dependent on federal dollars, attacking federal funding could effectively starve the program, especially given the perpetual budget crisis at the state and local level in California. But that runs into the politics of supporting law enforcement.

"There are many federal funding streams that go to state and local law enforcement, and there is a lot of politics around that," said Dooley-Sammuli. "CAMP really has little to do with marijuana and a lot to do with funding law enforcement."

Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko is a case in point. He told the Wall Street Journal last month that although he is having to lay off employees, reduce patrols, and even release inmates early because of the budget crunch, he's spending more money on pot busts because "it's where the money is."

He has spent about $340,000 since last year on eradication in order to ensure that his department gets $492,000 in federal anti-drug funds. That is "$340,000 I could use somewhere else in my organization," he said. "That could fund three officers' salaries and benefits, and we could have them out on our streets doing patrol."

Sheriff's Deputies transporting larger marijuana plants
from site (SBSO via SB Independent Weekly)
"We're giving law enforcement resources, but not allowing them to put them to the best use," said Dooley-Sammuli. "With all the cuts we're having, I don't know any Californians who would rather spend federal law enforcement on helicopter rides and pulling plants out of the ground. Why are we forcing our law enforcement to prioritize something that for most of the public is at the bottom of the list?"

It's the law of unintended consequences that provoked the boom in growing on public lands in the first place, said Meno. "Around 2002, law enforcement said they started seeing a dramatic shift toward outdoor grows on public lands, but that's because they were raiding people growing indoors and on private property. Prohibition and law enforcement tactics drove those people out into those federal lands. Now, some of our most treasured resources are overflowing with marijuana because they were pushed there by law enforcement."

For CAMP, the endless war continues. "The laws are what they are," said Gregory. "Whether it's marijuana or meth or heroin, we're going to enforce the law. If the law changes, that's different," she said, responding to a query about the looming marijuana legalization vote. "But we're always going to have something to enforce."

CA
United States

How Can We Prevent Pot Growing in Our National Forests?

There is some seriously messed up stuff going down in the woods:

LOS ANGELES — A juvenile arrested for tending marijuana crops in California told investigators he had been forced to work for illegal pot growers to pay off his debt to an immigrant smuggler, authorities said Monday.

Ventura County sheriff's Sgt. Mike Horne said he was concerned such forced labor of young migrants could become a trend on marijuana plantations.

[Detective] Wagner said suspected growers often tell him they were picked up outside a day labor center or from a street corner and whisked into the forest with no idea where they were headed.

When they get to the grow site, usually in a remote location, they are unable to make their way back into town and have little choice except to look after the crop in hopes of getting paid at the end of the season, Wagner said.

"They are kind of stuck," he said. "They kind of are just dumped out there." [AP]

This is ridiculous. Just think for a second how crazy it is that people are being stranded in remote forests and forced to cultivate marijuana, and yet the people who actually want to grow marijuana on their own property aren't allowed to.

I just continue to be amazed that there remain so many among us who actually think we're handling the marijuana situation correctly. I mean, really, just look at what's going on here and tell me what it is about any of this that makes sense to you. The gangs are getting rich, the stoners are getting stoned, the cops are off in the woods with weed-whackers instead of solving crimes in our communities, and all of this persists despite the billions we've spent and the decades we've been fighting this war.

It's a lesson some people won't learn until after legalization takes effect and the hundreds of stupid prohibition problems that surround us finally begin to come unraveled for all to see.

How to Get Away with Growing 100,000 Marijuana Plants

Just plant them in the woods:

Nearly 100,000 marijuana plants were found growing at four illegal farms in the San Bernardino National Forest, authorities said Tuesday.

No arrests have been made, said officials with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department and the U.S. Forest Service. [LA Times]

If we can't even catch the people who do this, do you think they're ever going to stop?

It should be obvious to anyone who's seen these same stories published every summer that the problem is just getting worse. These ridiculous pot wars in our national forests are profitable for both sides. The cops get to go hiking and collect their paychecks without even seeing an actual criminal, and the growers just plant more every year to ensure that the police never find it all. What fun.

That's why police and illegal growers are united in their opposition to the legalization of marijuana.

Utah Cops Create Website for Snitching on Marijuana Gardens

As outdoor marijuana cultivation continues to surge in our nation's forests, police are growing increasing desperate in their miserably failed attempts to put a stop to it. I think police in Utah are about to find out what happens when you ask people on the internet to help you fight the drug war.

The instant the site's link was posted at NORML, commenters began proposing a coordinated effort to submit false information and send police on long pointless marches into the wilderness. Soon, the site may have to be updated to remind everyone that submitting a false report is a crime, thereby deterring genuine tipsters from participating.

Meanwhile, some more charitable folks have been sending in tips on how to eliminate illegal outdoor cultivation entirely, by reforming our marijuana policies. It may not sink in right away, but maybe the long hikes will give Utah's marijuana warriors a chance to reflect on the absurdity of the situation.

How Can We Stop Drug Gangs From Growing Pot in the Woods? Legalize Pot

One of the most embarrassingly mindless trends in the mainstream media's marijuana reporting is that of publishing one redundant story after another about the explosion of illegal outdoor cultivation in our national parks, while failing entirely to diagnose why it's happening and how it might be prevented: 

Pot has been grown on public lands for decades, but Mexican traffickers have taken it to a whole new level: using armed guards and trip wires to safeguard sprawling plots that in some cases contain tens of thousands of plants offering a potential yield of more than 30 tons of pot a year.

"Just like the Mexicans took over the methamphetamine trade, they've gone to mega, monster gardens," said Brent Wood, a supervisor for the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement. He said Mexican traffickers have "supersized" the marijuana trade. [AP]

This Associated Press report is over 1,200 words long, yet does not contain one single idea for addressing the problem. Not even a stupid hopeless drug war idea like "we need more funding for eradication," or "we need to get everyone to stop using marijuana." Apparently, the AP is simply content to point out to us that our most precious natural resources are being slowly destroyed by Mexican marijuana cartels and there isn't a damn thing anyone can do about it.

But, of course there is. Illegal outdoor marijuana growing will immediately end the instant it becomes legal for Americans to grow their own marijuana on private property. People don't plant pot in remote wilderness because they like to go hiking. The reason they do it is obvious, but not so obvious that the AP should be forgiven for writing so much without mentioning it.

Marijuana is illegal and until that changes, the problems associated with it will get worse every year. Keep that in mind. As devastating as our marijuana laws are today, they are actually causing greater and greater harm the longer they continue.

Methamphetamine: Cold Sufferers Caught in the Crosshairs

Meth lab busts nationwide were up 27% last year over the previous year, according to the DEA, and state legislatures, prodded by law enforcement, are responding with a new batch of bills to ban pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in home-cooked meth, but also a key ingredient in widely used cold remedies such as Sudafed and Claritin-B.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/sudafed.gif
In at least three states -- California, Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri -- bills to make products containing pseudoephedrine available by prescription only have been or will be filed. Meanwhile, Mississippi this week became the first state this year to pass such a law, and only the second in the nation. Oregon passed such a law in 2006 and saw a dramatic reduction in meth lab busts.

In Mississippi, Gov. Hailey Barbour (R) is poised to sign HB 512, which would make ephedrine and pseudoephedrine Schedule III controlled substances available only by prescription. The measure passed the House 45-4 late last month and passed the Senate 45-4 on Tuesday.

The Tuesday vote came as about 50 uniformed members of Mississippi law enforcement looked on from the gallery. Mississippi law enforcement had been the primary force behind the bill.

As the cops looked on, supporters of the bill fended off amendments to the bill that would allow patients to be charged lower than normal fees when going to a physician to get a prescription. Opponents of the bill had argued that it would place a burden on Mississippi residents who would now be saddled with having to pay for a doctor's visit and a co-pay for their now prescription drug.

"I look forward to signing House Bill 512, which will make it more difficult to obtain the ingredients for this drug that tears families apart and harms many of our communities," Barbour said in a statement.

Barbour and the cops may have been happy, but the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents over-the-counter medicine makers, was not. The bill will be a burden on residents and will raise health care costs in the state, the group said.

"We are disappointed that the Mississippi Senate chose to overlook consumer sentiment and passed a bill today that will significantly impact how cold and allergy sufferers access some of their medicines," said association spokeswoman Linda Suydam. "While well-intentioned, this bill will impose an unnecessary burden on Mississippians, despite there being a better and more effective solution to address the state's meth production problem."

The association said that electronic tracking of over-the-counter medications containing pseudoephedrine was a "more effective, less-costly alternative, and one that eight states have adopted to fight domestic methamphetamine production while maintaining consumer access to these medicines."

Indiana is also moving to restrict pseudoephedrine, but not to make it prescription-only. The state Senate voted 46-4 Tuesday to approve SB 383, which limits customers to 3.6 grams of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine in one day and nine grams of the drugs in one month. That bill now heads to the House.

Law Enforcement: Utah "Meth Cops" Lose Out on Health Claims

More than 50 Utah law enforcement officers have filed workers compensation claims over ailments they believe were caused by exposure to methamphetamine labs, but none have been approved, and most have been dismissed for lack of evidence or because officers sought dismissal in a bid to come up with evidence. Only five cases are still pending.

http://stopthedrugwar.org/files/methlab4.jpg
meth lab
"They have to have enough evidence to justify the claims," said Carla Rush, adjudication manager for the Utah Labor Commission, which handles the claims. "Preferably a doctor saying they have been injured in a work-related exposure to meth. That would be the best evidence."

Scores of Utah police officers participated in breaking down clandestine meth labs in the 1980s and 1990s, wearing only standard police-issue uniforms. That was before they understood the caustic nature of some of the chemicals involved in cooking meth. Now, officers on meth lab duty wear air tanks and hazmat suits.

Those officers from the old days began filing claims asserting that a variety of physical ailments they were suffering were the result of meth lab exposure. By 2006, the Utah legislature commissioned a half-million dollar study to explore the issue. But that study, which was meant to establish a causal link between meth exposure and everything from cancer to nerve damage, was inconclusive.

The state has also paid out tens of thousands of dollars to the Utah Meth Cops Project for a scientifically unsupported detox regime backed by the Church of Scientology. But toxicologists say that toxins would have left the officers' bodies long ago, and the detox program is little more than quackery.

How about a study of legalization, to eliminate the meth lab problem once and for all -- followed by a detox from the consequences of prohibition?

Are Cocaine Users Killing the Rainforest?

The argument that cocaine users are destroying the environment is rapidly leading its proponents into a spiraling abyss of irony and incoherence:

If you're into charlie, snow, or a few lines of snort, Colombia's Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón has a message for you: your cocaine use is a "predator of the rain forest" and a serious threat to human life.

"Cocaine use requires a disposable income and during the week many users drive hybrid cars and recycle. Then, on the weekend, he or she destroys everything they believe in," Calderón said. [Huffington Post]

Wait, what!? Did he just say that cocaine users are successful and well-educated? Shall police start profiling Prius drivers for drug searches? I remember the good old days when cocaine was supposed to make you steal things and kill people.

I can’t even begin to imagine why you’d argue that cocaine is part of a healthy lifestyle if your goal is to make people stop doing it. If all this is true, then we can conclude rather easily that the problem with cocaine is how it’s produced and sold (which can be changed) rather than what happens when people use it (which cannot).

The two options are 1) illicit cocaine cultivation in the rainforest, or 2) regulated cultivation somewhere else. There is no third option in which everyone agrees not to do coke. If you wait for that to happen while the rainforests burn, you’re a bigger part of the problem than the party people who drive Priuses.

Press Release: Reformers Call For New Policy to Protect Forests From Marijuana Farms

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE   
OCTOBER 14, 2008

Reformers Call For New Policy to Protect Forests From Marijuana Farms
New Approach Needed to Curb Environmental Damage, Advocates Say

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-668-6403 or 202-215-4205

SAN FRANCISCO -- Recent alarming reports of environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana farms in national forests and wilderness areas in California and elsewhere show that an entirely new approach is needed in order to solve the problem, officials of the Marijuana Policy Project said today.

    "Year after year we hear from law enforcement and U.S. Forest Service officials about growing environmental damage caused by these criminal operations, even as law enforcement seizures of marijuana plants set new records every year," said Bruce Mirken, MPP's California-based director of communications. "What we've been doing is plainly not working and has actually caused the problem in the first place. It's time to get off the treadmill and try a new approach."

    An Oct. 13 Associated Press story quoted Forest Service agent Ron Pugh describing the problem as "a crisis at every level."

    "California is a world-leading producer of two popular psychoactive drugs -- marijuana and wine," Mirken said. "California's wine industry is a huge asset to our state's economy and reputation, generating tax revenue, tourism and prestige, with no meaningful environmental problems. There is no reason marijuana should be different. They're both agricultural products, and there is nothing inherently dangerous about marijuana cultivation. The difference is that wine is legally regulated, while we consign marijuana -- the state's leading cash crop, based on government figures -- to the criminal underground where it is completely unregulated and untaxed, while all the profits go to criminals. In the process, we've effectively invited the violence from the Mexican drug trade over our borders. The problem isn't marijuana, the problem is dumb policy."

    "Last year the number of Americans who have used marijuana reached an all-time record of over 100 million. It's time to stop imagining that we can make this industry go away and time to start bringing it under responsible regulation just like our wine industry."

    With more than 25,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit http://MarijuanaPolicy.org.

####
Location: 
CA
United States

Save the Rainforest From the Drug War

U.S.-sponsored efforts to fumigate Colombian coca crops have utterly failed to prevent cocaine production. But they have been very effective at destroying Colombia's national parks:
Leftist rebels, right-wing paramilitaries, and narcos that control the billion-dollar cocaine trade have invaded the 2.5-million-acre Macarena, laying waste to much of it to plant coca. Most of Colombia's 48 other national parks and nature reserves are suffering similar fates. Chased from more accessible sites by U.S.-sponsored aerial fumigation, coca growers relentlessly clear forests knowing that they are beyond the reach of the U.S.-Colombian fleet of planes because spraying of the parks is prohibited by law. [Los Angeles Times]
So what's next? Are we gonna spray crop killers on this precious irreplaceable ecosystem? Doing that will just force the drug lords to burrow deeper, leaving an ever-expanding trail of flaming destruction in their tracks.

Let's face it, rainforests are awesome. They are filled with jaguars, anacondas, and large spiders that eat chickens. I don't know what kinds of animals live in Colombian forests specifically, but I'm sure there are some wicked cool creatures in there that are worth saving.

Unfortunately, there's nothing in this entire LA Times article that even vaguely resembles a plan for stopping drug traffickers from completely destroying everything. The Colombians' best idea is literally to ask that people please stop doing cocaine, a plan so useless it isn't worth the trees that died to print it out. We are on an irreversible trajectory towards the total permanent destruction of many of the world's most unique natural resources as long as current efforts to thwart illicit drug production continue. That is just a fact.

This would all be a terrible price to pay to get rid of cocaine, except that we haven't even come close to accomplishing that and we never will. Invaluable natural resources are being destroyed for nothing. Only by ending the drug war immediately can we even begin to address this rapidly expanding ecological crisis.
Location: 
United States

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