New research suggests that unlawful marijuana farming is diverting water sources, poisoning animals, and increasing erosion.
It began with dying weasels. First one, then many, all mysteriously killed by rat poison banned in the lush Northern California forests where the animals live. Damning evidence soon pointed to a surprising culprit: illegal marijuana farms, where growers use poisons to protect an increasingly lucrative crop.
But the damage caused by pot farms is greater than just one species of poisoned animal—it is far reaching, harming forests, streams, and broad wildlife populations. As states like California debate the legality of marijuana, new research suggests the discussion should focus not only on citizens’ right to smoke, but the broader impact of producing the drug.
There is a surprisingly strong environmental case to be made in favor of legalizing pot, because illegal marijuana is so bad for California’s wilderness and wildlife.
“It’s not just a moral and ethical debate,” says Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, who helped unravel the mystery of the dying weasels. “It’s a major environmental concern.”