Two years into California's worst drought since recordkeeping began, a new data-driven study by business-news publication Quartz convincingly argues that marijuana prohibition is exacerbating the devastation because state and local regulators are unable to set environmental standards for cannabis cultivation in the way grape growers or timber harvesters are regulated. Thus weed farmers— especially in the pot-saturated NorCal region known as the “Emerald Triangle”—use as much water as they deem necessary without oversight.
Then there’s the pending legalization of recreational pot in California. With the possibility of two initiatives on the ballot in November, a reported “Green Rush” is underway as growers try to cash in on the last few black-market harvests, resulting in more water usage than ever. In fact, from 2009-12, the amount of land utilized to cultivate weed in the Triangle almost doubled.
It’s estimated that each industrial-scale garden uses 12,000 to 30,000 gallons daily across the state. Another factor: most growing is done during the summer months, when California runs especially dry. The study also suggests the pot-fueled drought is
killing off the California Chinook salmon. Scott Bauer, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says cannabis cultivation could theoretically “completely de-water and dry up streams in the areas where [pot farmers grow] pretty extensively.”
The state has earmarked $3.3 million to protect destructive water use and endangered species from ganja growers. But only until recreational cannabis is inevitably legalized in California can substantial regulations be established to better manage and conserve water supplies. Meanwhile, National Geographic has speculated that the drought could last 200 years.