Discussions around legalization often touch on business, public safety and social justice - especially the racial injustices of prohibition. But another unexpected victim of prohibition is the environment - especially endangered species. In California, illegal growing operations are devastating their ecosystems through illegal water diversion and irrigation, as well as the unregulated use of harmful pesticides.
But perhaps the most alarming challenge to the survival of many species is the invasion of armed drug dealers in their California habitats. On Feb. 1, 2016, Jesse Greenspan of Scientific American reported:
"Armed suspects occasionally engage in shoot-outs with law enforcement or threaten civilians who stumble on them accidentally. Such incidents can discourage wildlife researchers from getting involved in issues that impinge on the contemporary culture wars around [illegal] marijuana."
Here are a few animals whose existence might be saved by stamping out illegal cultivation through the legalization and regulation of marijuana.
1. Northern Spotted Owls
Deforestation pushed the northern spotted owl to the brink of extinction. But rat poisons used by illegal marijuana growers could push this majestic bird over the edge. There are only approximately 15,000 mature owls of this species remaining in the world, and their population continues to decrease.
2. Pacific Fisher
Owls aren't the only animals afflicted by the illegal use of pesticides. Unregulated use of rodenticide is also killing black bears, gray foxes and the endangered pacific fisher - a furry member of the weasel family. According to Scientific American, animals that consume poisoned bait (or snack on rats that ate it) are likely to die by slowly bleeding out internally. That could doom the small fisher, whose population initially dipped due to regional logging.
3. Southern Torrent Salamander
Ken-ichi Ueda / Flickr
The logging boom also threatened the existence of the southern torrent salamander. But illegal irrigation and water diversion by illicit cannabis growers are pushing this wriggly little guy to extinction by decimating his natural habitat - creaks and other wetlands.
4. Coho Salmon
This endangered species of salmon faces numerous challenges to its survival due to illegal cannabis cultivation. Unregulated growing sites cause soil erosion, water pollution and water diversion, which jeopardize this fish's survival by depleting as well as contaminating California's watersheds.