Drug War puts California hunters, wildlife at risk

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The Sacramento Bee is reporting that California hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, and even wildlife are being threatened by the operations of illegal cannabis growers.

At the International Sportsmen’s Exposition this Sunday, a panel including California game wardens, a wildlife advocate, and a Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement task force commander all shared their concerns over illicit growing operations in California’s forests and wilderness. They say that illegal drug cartels have moved into California, utilizing its Mediterranean climate to grow the cannabis that supplies much of the nation.

To protect their crops, armed bands of illegal growers are roving through California’s forests with powerful weaponry and threatening the safety of California hunters and other sportsmen and women. Additionally, the cartels are diverting streams, using fertilizers and other chemicals, and leaving trash everywhere. That’s why Nancy Foley, chief of the Law Enforcement Division for California’s Department of Fish and Game, called illegal pot cultivation “the No. 1 destroyer of habitat in the United States.”

State Fish and Game Warden Lt. John Nores described the problem further: “We are talking about the degradation of California resources in the most pristine areas in a most egregious fashion.” Nores was joined by law enforcement panelists who emphasized that the problem of illegal growing in California’s wilderness is getting worse with each passing year.

While the Sacramento Bee article concluded with some sound advice for hunters who stumble across an illegal marijuana farm (note the location and withdraw immediately, avoiding confrontation), it didn’t mention any long-term solutions from the panel at Sunday’s convention. What can be done to prevent a California hunter from ever having to use the above advice while staring down the barrel of an automatic rifle in the hands of a criminal? And what can be done to protect California’s natural habitats from what has been called their No. 1 destroyer?

As any hunter can tell you, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns. Likewise, if you outlaw cannabis cultivation and distribution, only outlaws will cultivate and distribute cannabis. Legitimate farmers- of tobacco for instance- do not grow their crops secretly in pristine public wilderness. They grow it on private property. They don’t protect it from rival gangs or any luckless passerby with automatic weapons. They can rely on the police and court systems if their property is damaged or threatened. They can’t just pour any chemicals they want into the soil and water. They have to comply with regulations and play by the rules. They are an integrated part of society and they act like it.

If California wants to keep its wildlife and its wildlife enthusiasts safe, it should stop protecting illegal growers from their would-be legal competitors, who would grow the plant in a safe, environmentally-conscious, regulatory-compliant, violence-free, and legitimate way.

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