U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson has co-authored a bill to stiffen the penalties for environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana growers.
If approved, the Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking Act — or PLANT Act — would allow the establishment of new penalties for clear-cutting, diverting streams, dumping pesticides and causing other environmental damages in order to grow marijuana on federal lands and private property, according to Thompson and co-author Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
While cultivation of illegal drugs is a crime, prosecutions are rare for the environmental damage, according to Thompson’s written statement. Cleaning a marijuana grow site can cost more than $15,000, according to the bill.
“These illegal grow sites are threatening lives, destroying public lands and devastating wildlife,” the St. Helena Democrat said. “There should be stiff penalties for the people whose reckless and illegal actions are causing this environmental damage. Our legislation will make sure these criminals are held fully responsible for the harm they cause.”
The bill, which was introduced a week and a half ago, is a bipartisan effort co-sponsored by two Republican congressmen, Doug LaMalfa of Butte County and Doug Lambron of Colorado.
The federal penalties would be specified once the legislation becomes law. The bill would instruct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to establish the penalties.
The proposed legislation first has to be heard before the House Judiciary Committee. No date has been set. “We hope to have a hearing soon,” Paul Arden, a spokesman for Huffman, said on Saturday.
The bill, with its bipartisan support, is not considered controversial, Arden said.
The proposed legislation intends to crack down on the use of poisons, pesticides, high-grade fertilizers and other hazardous chemicals dumped at grow sites; diversion from rivers and other bodies of water; and clear-cutting and other vegetation removal at grow sites.
In 2012, more than 900,000 marijuana plants were eradicated from 471 sites on national forest lands in 20 states from Hawaii to Virginia, according to the bill. And that’s only a fraction of the total amount of plants found on public lands.
In Napa County, drug agents eradicated a total of 29,637 marijuana plants last year, according to the Napa Special Investigations Bureau.
Generally speaking, hazardous waste dumping and illegal water diversions are the main issues associated with marijuana grows, said Pete Lucero, a representative for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Lake Berryessa and its shoreline.
In a separate interview, Jeff Fontana, spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, which owns about 31,700 acres in Napa County, said the impacts aren’t just environmental. He noted the armed individuals who guard the marijuana.