Marijuana Farming is Beginning to Damage the Environment, Too

It’s not like we shouldn’t have expected this. Now that cannabis can legally be grown under state law for certain uses, it’s a money maker. When that happens, farming of marijuana ramps up – sometimes into remote locations that can’t tolerate widespread agricultural activity.

A new study by researchers from Ithaca College says planting cannabis for commercial production in remote locations causes a surprising amount of environmental damage. Marijuana farming can be responsible for forest fragmentation, stream modification, soil erosion, rodenticide poisoning of forest mammals, dewatering of streams, and landslides.

The study echoes similar findings the same researchers made in 2016.

In some ways, says the new study, a cannabis crop (known as a “grow”) can cause more damage to a forested area than timbering would cause. It’s all about scale — that is, what happens on a per-unit-area basis.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

Looking at impacts in this way, the study compared the effects of cannabis farming in 62 watersheds of Humboldt County, California to impacts from timber harvesting. From 2000 to 2013, the study revealed that cannabis grows resulted in 1.5 times more forest loss and 2.5 times greater fragmentation of the landscape than the timbering did.

California limits outdoor cannabis grows to one acre per parcel. These smaller growth patches turn out to be part of the problem Multiple relatively small cannabis growth areas broke up the large and contiguous forest into smaller patches. Doing this ended up reducing available wildlife habitat.

Placement of cannabis grows in forests often results in their location on steep slopes well inside the treed areas. This placement requires creation of access roads and land clearance. Sloped areas can mean greater soil erosion. Pesticide application results in stormwater run-off containing chemicals that end up polluting rivers and streams.

“Cannabis leaves a small spatial footprint but has potentially significant environmental impacts,” according to study co-author Jake Brenner, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College. “To mitigate these impacts, policymakers and planners need to enact specific environmental and land-use regulations to control cannabis crop expansion during this early stage in its development.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

The researchers aren’t saying don’t grow cannabis. They’re saying be smart about where the crop is located. Avoid slopes. Grow nearer to established roads. Minimize the problems we’re already beginning to see as this new industry really begins to take root.

Intelligent planning can allow harmonious co-existence for all plants and animals, we just have to think far enough ahead to be sure we’re doing right by every plant or animal we might affect.

Now, while this industry is young, policymakers need to think about these effects and regulate accordingly. Without sufficient controls, commercial cannabis grows will start taking too great a toll on the environment in some locations.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

52 comments

Stephanie s
Stephanie s11 days ago

Everything we covet s bad for the environment.

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Stephanie s
Stephanie s11 days ago

Everything we covet is bad for the environment.

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JT S
JT S29 days ago

I have no problem with cannabis being used medically when prescribed by a licensed physician and its use is controlled.

When it comes to recreational use, that's another matter entirely. I still can't figure out why so many people want to turn themselves into idiots who effectively macrame their asses to the couch.

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Pat P
Pat Pabout a month ago

The potential for marijuana benefits can be significant---only, if it is managed wisely.

I would like to see its medical use, especially, be more widely researched, but I don't want to have other aspects of nature destroyed--poisoning of animals, soil erosion, forest fragmentation, pesticides, water pollution, etc.
We can't let human stupidity, greed and poor planning do more damage.

If we don't learn from past mistakes (a common problem), we will, again, demonstrate how destructive our species is--and will ruin our changes to expand legal marijuana production, reduce the cost for most people, increase the quality of production and develop/discover more about this herb that could change our society, positively--if we just think!

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Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a month ago

ty

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Mary B
Mary Babout a month ago

After watching the documentary series on the MAJOR healing benefits of cannabis it is well worth moving forward with legalized growing. The thing is, much of it will need to be done in green houses to control the varieties . For purely recreational use, back yards or pots on balconies will do. I'm sure people will figure it all out if they don't have to grow it in secret any more. Tobacco and even cotton are far heavier feeders that mj.

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Kimberly Wallace
Kimberly Wallaceabout a month ago

TY

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Mike R
Mike Rabout a month ago

Awful

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Winn A
Winn Adamsabout a month ago

noted

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Cruel Justice
Cruel Justiceabout a month ago

How incredibly depressing.

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