Unforeseen Land Uses: The Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Land Conservation Programs
29 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2017 Last revised: 9 Sep 2017
Date Written: August 24, 2017
This Article explores the tension between land conservation and marijuana cultivation in the context of legalization. The legalization of marijuana has shifted the locations of marijuana cultivation and with that shift comes environmental and land-use implications. Investigating commercial-scale marijuana cultivation, this Article details how, in some ways, legalization can reduce environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation while also examining tricky issues regarding tensions between protected lands and marijuana cultivation. Legalization of marijuana has brought its production out of the federal forests and individuals’ basements and closets and into large-scale agricultural production. In some ways, the legitimation of the process makes it less likely to be environmentally destructive. If we treat cultivation of marijuana the same as we treat cultivation of other agricultural crops, we gain stricter regulation of the growing process, including limits on pesticide usage, water pollution, wetland conversion, air pollution, and local land-use laws. Thus, it appears that legalization of marijuana yields an environmental benefit. And yet the story is, of course, more complicated than that. The strange status of marijuana as both a federally impermissible use and a stigmatized crop suggest that it will not fall under the same legal regimes as other agricultural products. The Article reaches two main conclusions. First, in the absence of federal regulations, subnational governments must create and implement environmental and land use regulations governing the cultivation of marijuana to ensure the legal grows do not continue the harmful practices involved with black market marijuana. Second, land trusts and agricultural protection organizations should not become involved with marijuana cultivation in any form while it remains illegal at the federal level. To do so puts both the land and their operations at risk.
Keywords: Marijuana Legalization, Land Conservation, Environmental Protection, Agriculture
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