The Best Way to Keep Illegal Grow Ops Out of National Forests is to Legalize Marijuana

Legalize weed, save the trees.

Illegal marijuana grows aren't just the bane of law enforcers. They can also have a negative impact on America's national forests. That's because the people behind these illicit farms often use pesticides and fertilizers that are harmful to the plant life that naturally lives in the area. On top of that, illicit cultivators often alter the landscape to make it more favorable for cannabis farming.

While the US Forest Service shuts down some 400 of these farms each year, authorities suspect that there are hundreds more that have gone undetected. But a new study shows there might be a better way to stop these illegal cannabis grows and protect national forests at the same time: legalize recreational cannabis.

Researchers came to that conclusion after studying data on illegal cannabis grow sites that the US Department of Agriculture collected from 2004 to 2016. After combing through all that information, researchers found "significantly lower numbers" of illegal cannabis farms in states with legal marijuana. Expanding legalization to other states could therefore reduce the amount of illegal cannabis farms on public lands even further.

"Arguably, our models hint that outright, national recreational cannabis legalization would be one means by which illegal growing on national forests could be made to disappear," the study concluded. "We find that recreational cannabis legalization is associated with decreased reports of illegal grow operations on national forests."

Right now, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, but only 11 of those also allow recreational consumption. If the other 22 got onboard with recreational use, the illegal cultivation of marijuana in national forests could decline by between 35 and 51 percent, according to the study.

But the study also suggested that hiring more law enforcers and imposing harsher penalties on illegal growers similarly could reduce illicit grow ops on federal land. However, those solutions would make life tougher on the taxpayer, who has to pick up the tab for the additional cops and prison cells.

In contrast, legalizing recreational cannabis would not only solve the problem with illicit cultivators, but it would also generate more revenue for the state, making it the most affordable and arguably the most effective solution to weeding illegal grow ops out of national forests.

h/t Marijuana Moment

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