SAN FRANCISCO -- Six California lawmakers sent a bipartisan letter to the United States Sentencing Commission calling for more focus on the threats posed by illegal marijuana grows on public lands and trespassed private property.
In the Nov. 21 letter, the congressional lawmakers -- including Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) -- urged the commission to consider harm to the environment, as well as threats to public safety, in punishing growers who trespass on private and public lands.
The letter highlighted the environmental damage caused by such grows, noting that in a single law enforcement operation in Mendocino National Forest in 2011, officers found 56 sites and removed "23 tons of trash, over a ton of fertilizer, 57 pounds of pesticides and herbicides, 22 miles of irrigation piping and 13 man-made dams."
It also pointed to public safety concerns, noting California lumber company Green Diamond's decision to provide annual safety training for employees who might encounter an illegal grow. Trespass marijuana operations "are a serious safety concern for our employees and contractors," Green Diamond Vice President Neal Ewald wrote to Huffman.
"We are concerned that existing guidelines do not address the long term detrimental threats these operations pose to the environment and nearby communities," read the lawmakers' letter. "We urge you to consider the significant impacts of drug cultivation operations on public and trespassed lands throughout the country and add new emphasis to countering the environmental damages of drug production."
The lawmakers are not the first to draw attention to the escalating problem.
An Oct. 9 article in the East Bay Express detailed the damage that illegal grows cause to wildlife. Among others, it referenced a University of California, Davis study of the impact on fishers, one of the primary predators in Pacific Northwest forests and a member of the weasel family.
"[UC Davis researcher Mourad] Gabriel's studies show that about 86 percent of fishers in California have been exposed to rodenticides and that the percentage has been increasing in recent years," the East Bay Express wrote. "The habitat range for fishers also overlaps nearly perfectly with known illegal pot grows on public and private lands in the state."
"My jaw dropped when I saw that study," Brad Henderson of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Oakland, Calif.-based paper. "It means there's no place safe for wildlife in California. You can go way into the backcountry and you got anti-coagulant in predators."
However, like many in the marijuana policy reform camp, the article also argued that it was the war on drugs that sent growers into the forest in the first place.
"This problem is rooted in our nation's failed marijuana prohibition policies. We cannot simply arrest and jail our way out of it," said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project to The Huffington Post. "The quickest and easiest way to prevent marijuana from being grown on public lands is to regulate it like alcohol. There is a reason why drug cartels are not producing moonshine in our national forests these days. ... By regulating it we could actually control who is growing it and where it is being grown."
Related on HuffPost:
Because Most Americans Are Unenthusiastic About It
Only 7 percent of Americans think the United States is <a href="http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/general_lifestyle/november_2012/7_think_u_s_is_winning_war_on_drugs">winning the war on drugs</a>, and few Americans are interested in throwing down more money to try to win, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released in 2012.
Because the U.S. Won't Control The Flow Of Guns Into Latin America
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/mexico-guns-arturo-sarukhan-us-weapons-mexico-violence-gun-rights_n_1563250.html">Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of U.S. origin</a> from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the U.S. Congress declined to renew a 10-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels. Some 60,000 people have died in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón launched a military assault on the cartels in 2006.
Because the United States Leads The Hemisphere In Drug Consumption
Americans have the <a href="http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/files/serve/?File_id=81b53476-64a3-4088-9bae-254a84b95ddb">highest rate of illegal drug consumption in the world</a>, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
Because The U.S. Ignores Latin American Calls For A Rethinking Of Drug Policy
Several current and former Latin American presidents, like Fernando Henrique Cardoso, have <a href="http://www.globalcommissionondrugs.org/">urged the United States to rethink its failed war on drugs</a>, to no avail.
Because Of The Fast And Furious Scandal
In an attempt to track guns as they moved across the U.S.-Mexico border, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms <a href="http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/atf-fast-furious-sg,0,3828090.storygallery">allowed smugglers to purchase weapons</a>. The ATF lost track of the guns and they wound up in the hands of drug cartels -- even as <a href="http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/09/11/atf-fast-and-furious-guns-appear-in-colombia/">far south as Colombia</a>.
Because American Politicians Refuse To Candidly Lead A Debate On Reforming Our Laws
Though the subject of marijuana legalization regularly ranks among the most popular at the digital town halls President Obama takes part in, he <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/07/06/askobama-twitter-town-hall-ignores-flood-of-marijuana-legalization-questions/">declines to address the issue</a> or give it a <a href="http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/technology/2009/03/obama-addresses.html">thoughtful answer</a>. Incidentally, a younger Obama <a href="http://www.wusa9.com/news/article/229756/82/We-Need-To-Decriminalize-Our-Marijuana-Laws----Barack-Obama">supported marijuana decriminalization and a rethinking of the drug war</a>.
Because The U.S. Tortures Detainees In Cuba
Almost 800 prisoners accused of terrorism have have been held at the <a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/01/06/guantanamo-ten-years">U.S. military prison of Guantánamo</a>, Cuba, where they are detained indefinitely without facing trial. The United States has drawn international criticism from human rights defenders for subjecting the detainees there to torture and other cruel treatment. The Cuban government opposes hosting the U.S. naval base on its soil.
Because The U.S. Has The World's Largest Prison Population
The United States has <a href="http://www.prb.org/Articles/2012/us-incarceration.aspx">the world's largest prison population</a> by far -- largely fed by the war on drugs -- at 500 per 100,000 people.
Because The U.S. Jails Undocumented Immigrants Guilty Of Civil Violations
Because the United States <a href="http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/ExposeAndClose">imprisons roughly 400,000 immigrants</a> each year on civil violations.
Because The Border Patrol Kills Kids Who Throw Rocks
The U.S. Border Patrol has come under fire for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/26/border-patrol-killing-un_n_2018731.html">killing minors who were throwing rocks</a>.
Because The U.S. Recognized An Illegal Government In Venezuela
When opponents of leftwing Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez briefly ousted him in 2002, the United States not only failed to condemn the coup, it <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/world/bush-officials-met-with-venezuelans-who-ousted-leader.html">praised the coup leaders</a>.
Because U.S. Extradition Undermines Justice In Colombia
When Colombia demobilized the largest rightwing paramilitary organization in 2006, if offered lenient sentences to those who would offer details on the atrocities the AUC committed. But rather than facing justice in their home country, <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/colombian-paramilitaries-extradited-to-u.s.-where-cases-are-sealed">Colombia has extradited several paramilitary leaders to the United States</a> to face drug trafficking charges -- marking it harder for people like Bela Henríquez to find out the details surrounding the murders of their loved ones. "More than anger, I feel powerless," Henriquez, whose father, Julio, was kidnapped and killed on the orders of one defendant, told ProPublica. "We don't know what they are negotiating, what conditions they are living under. What guarantee of justice do we have?"
Because The U.S. Helped Create Today's Cartels
The U.S funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of U.S military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former <a href="http://ghrc-usa.org/Publications/factsheet_kaibiles.pdf" target="_hplink">Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel</a>.
Because The U.S. Backed An Argentine Military Dictatorship That Killed 30,000 People
The rightwing military dictatorship that took over Argentina in 1976 "disappeared" some 30,000 people, according to estimates by several human rights organizations. They subjected countless others to sadistic forms of torture and stole dozens of babies from mothers they jailed and murdered. The military junta carried out the so-called "Dirty War" with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB104/index.htm">full knowledge and support of the Nixon administration</a>.
Because The U.S. Helped Topple The Democratically Elected Government Of Salvador Allende
When it became clear that socialist Salvador Allende would likely win the presidency in Chile, U.S. President Richard Nixon told the CIA to "make the economy scream" in order to "prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him," <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB8/nsaebb8i.htm">according to the National Security Archive</a>. Augusto Pinochet overthrew Allende in a bloody coup on Sept. 11, 1973, torturing and disappearing thousands of his political rivals with the backing of the U.S. government.
Because the U.S. Backed A Military Coup In Brazil In 1964
The Brazilian military overthrew the democratically elected government of João Goulart in 1964, with the <a href="http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB118/index.htm">enthusiastic support of President Lyndon Johnson</a>, ushering in two decades of repressive government.
Because The U.S. Funded A Terrorist Group In Nicaragua
The Reagan administration funded the Contra rebels against the Marxist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Regarded by many as terrorists, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/1985-03-08/news/mn-32283_1_contras">the Contras murdered, tortured and raped civilians</a>. When human rights organizations reported on the crimes, the Reagan administration accused them of working on behalf of the Sandinistas.
Because The U.S. Helped Finance Atrocities In Colombia
Through Plan Colombia, the U.S. has pumped over $6 billion into Colombia's military and intelligence service since 2002. The intelligence service has been disbanded for <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/us-aid-implicated-in-abuses-of-power-in-colombia/2011/06/21/gIQABrZpSJ_story.html">spying on the Supreme Court and carrying out smear campaigns</a> against the justices, as well as journalists, members of Congress and human rights activists. The military faces numerous allegations of human rights abuse, including the practice of killing non-combatants from poor neighborhoods and dressing them up as guerrillas to inflate enemy casualty statistics.
Because The U.S. Maintains A Trade Embargo Against Cuba Despite Opposition From The Entire World
For 21 years, the <a href="http://news.yahoo.com/u-n-urges-end-u-cuba-embargo-21st-192516276.html">U.N. has condemned the U.S. embargo against Cuba</a> and for 21 years the United States has ignored it. Some 188 nations voted against the embargo this year, with only the U.S. itself, Israel, Palau opposing.
Because The U.S. Engineered A Coup Against The Democratically Elected Government Of Guatemala In 1954
At the behest of United Fruit Company, a U.S. corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.
Because The U.S. Backed The Salvadoran Military As It Committed Atrocities In The 1980s
El Salvador's military <a href="http://www.pbs.org/itvs/enemiesofwar/elsalvador2.html">committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with U.S. funding</a>.
Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti and Occupied It For Almost 20 Years
Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to <a href="http://history.state.gov/milestones/1914-1920/Haiti">invade and occupy Haiti in 1915</a> after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn't leave until 1934.
Because The U.S. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994
One invasion wasn't good enough. The U.S. <a href="http://wws.princeton.edu/research/cases/haiti.pdf">military returned in 1994</a>.
Because The U.S. Trained Military Leaders Who Committed Atrocities In Latin America
The School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, Georgia, trained soldiers and generals responsible for massacres and torture of tens of thousands of Latin Americans, <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2012/09/201292081054585410.html">according to Al Jazeera</a>.
Because The U.S. Backed Dictator Rafael Trujillo
Rafael Trujillo Sr. (Photo by Hank Walker//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Because The U.S. Invaded Cuba And Undermined The Island's Independence
The so-called "Spanish-American War" began in 1868 with the first of a series of three wars for Cuban independence. In 1898, the U.S. got involved, invading Cuba and occupying the island after forcing Spain to give it. The United States then forced Cuba to <a href="http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=55">accept the odious Platt Amendent to its Constitution</a>, which allowed the United States to intervene in the country militarily and established the U.S. military base at Guantánamo.
Because The U.S. Colonized Puerto Rico
As long as you're invading Cuba, <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/puerto-rico-invaded">why not take Puerto Rico</a> as well? The United States invaded in 1898 and the island remains a U.S. territory today.