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Norms have shifted around marijuana consumption, Silvaggio added. "Presidents have smoked weed. But there's a need to keep it illegal. There's this particular function it provides — that is law enforcement money.
"So they've switched tracks," Silvaggio continued. "And this track has proved very useful."
But the way to halt environmental harms caused by growing pot isn't through a new campaign against weed; it's through legalization, taxation, and regulation of cannabis, said Humboldt County Sheriff Downey during a public meeting with North Bay Congressman Jared Huffman on August 29. "I've never been a big fan of legalization," Downey told the crowd. "But right now I think that's the most logical way to end this Drug War."
After all, it was the Drug War that sent growers into the forest in the first place. And farming in the woods offers no particular advantage for growers — other than allowing them to avoid detection by law enforcement. "Are they up there for the dry weather, great soil, and ample water?" said celebrity growing instructor Ed Rosenthal. "No, they're up there because it's hard to get caught."
Legalizing marijuana and growing it on traditional farms, alongside other crops, also will eliminate the risks currently associated with pot production and distribution — and will likely reduce costs dramatically. According to Rand estimates, fully legalized, commercially farmed high-grade pot would cost just $20 per pound to produce. And low-grade weed would cost only $5 per pound. With profit margins so low, there simply would be no incentive to spend four filthy months growing weed in bear-infested backwoods, Silvaggio and other advocates of legalization point out.
Plus, farming marijuana out in the open would be much better for the environment — there would be no need, for example, to siphon water illegally from creeks and streams. And pesticide and insecticide use could be regulated — like they it is for any other crop. "If it was grown like corn or hemp, it would be regulated, including the discharge of chemicals and the amount of water used and the way you grade," said Connelly. In addition, organic pot-growing likely would sprout as a major industry.
And because cannabis is a highly productive plant, it wouldn't take up that much farmland. According to a Rand study, just 10,000 acres of intensively farmed land could grow all the dope Americans consume each year. California's estimated share would total only 1,600 acres. By comparison, the state currently dedicates about 150,000 acres to pistachio growing each year.
The relaxation of pot prohibition has already caused price drops in California, Colorado, and Washington, but this half-solution has caused existing farmers to plant more to make up for lost profits. It's going to take a true market crash from national legalization and regulation to halt wildland growing forever. "I think we'd see a decrease slowly in environmental harms and then it would be minimal," Silvaggio said. "Long-term, we'd see a recovery in the ecosystem."
Silvaggio also argued that the news media needs to start sharing the stories of growers who farm sustainably in Humboldt and how they do it. "There's a total disregard for interviewing and talking with communities that are growing ecologically sensitive weed.
"Prohibition has failed and it needs to end," he continued. "If we didn't have prohibition, we would see this problem go away."