By Kaisha-Dyan McMillan, journalist specializing in the cannabis industry
It’s estimated that 40-70% of California’s illegal cannabis market is sustained by illicit cannabis grows on public lands known as “trespass grows.” Trespass grows have been an issue for decades, and while much of the conversation surrounding the illicit cannabis market revolves around public health risks and the unfulfilled revenue potential of the legal marketplace, the environmental fallout created by these illegal operations has only come to light in recent years. We spoke with Jackee Riccio, Regional Field Director of the Community Governance Partnership, about “Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project (CROP): Impacts of Trespass Grows and Diverted Water on California’s Public Lands, Wildlife and Communities,” the educational session she’s co-presenting as part of NCIA’s 3rd annual California Cannabis Business Conference.
“About 92-93% of [trespass grows] contain EPA banned toxicants, the most toxic of which is carbofuran,” Riccio said, adding that about 1/12th of a teaspoon of the pesticide is powerful enough to kill a human being. “We’ll find liters and liters of this at trespass grows. Those toxicants get into watersheds that drain directly to communities, so people are being poisoned.”
The use of carbofuran, anticoagulant rodenticides, and other toxicants in trespass grows has also impacted California’s wildlife. According to Riccio, various animals from mountain lions and northern spotted owls, to birds of prey and small mammals now test positive for rodenticides. “We can assume that if they’re at the top of the food chain in mountain lions, that means they’re bio-accumulating them from consuming species further down the food web,” she explained.
As if contaminated water supply and wildlife weren’t alarming enough, conservative estimates say trespass grows are also responsible for the diversion of over nine billion gallons of water per year. And while several of these illicit grows thrive on public land near Mendocino, Trinity, and Humboldt counties – directly impacting many of the communities that gave rise to California’s cannabis industry – Riccio calls attention to the plight of indigenous communities. “A lot of these communities are also receiving carbofuran contaminated water and are hunting wildlife that is poisoned with anticoagulant rodenticides,” Riccio said. “Now it’s unsafe for them to carry out their traditional norms and cultural practices.”
The CROP Project – which stands for Cannabis Removal On Public Lands – is the first citizen-based project to directly address trespass grows. The project centers on three main goals: to greatly increase federal and state resources for reclamation and enforcement of trespass grows, to keep funding local, and to implement a statewide public education campaign on the health and environmental impacts of unregulated cannabis.
For Riccio, raising awareness of the problem within the larger cannabis industry, while also making clear that this has nothing to do with increasing community enforcement or reigniting the drug war, is crucial. “We’ll get a lot of responses sometimes where people from the cannabis community get defensive about cannabis cultivation on public lands,” she said. “You do not want to defend what’s going on with trespass grows on public lands. It’s an environmental atrocity; it should not be associated with cannabis. It’s going to give the cannabis industry a bad name if people defend it.”
Riccio hopes attendees of the educational session will walk away with a greater understanding of not only the issue itself, but on the importance of everyone in the cannabis industry getting involved. “Fear of increased enforcement, even on public lands, should not override the environmental importance and the health importance of removing trespass grows,” she says.
Join the discussion Wednesday, October 9 during the National Cannabis Industry Association’s 3rd annual California Cannabis Business Conference. Coming to Long Beach October 8, it’s the only association-backed cannabis conference focusing on California’s cannabis industry. Register your spot today!
Kaisha started journaling when she received her first diary at the age of 9. The practice of using words to document thoughts, process feelings, and weave a story was intuitive from the moment she set pen to page.
When considering a niche in 2016, she originally chose cannabis because of her experience taking it for wellness. After taking a weekend seminar at Oaksterdam University to educate herself further, it became clear that her marketing background and writing skills were how she could best help this burgeoning industry. Her favorite cannabis copywriting projects are those that reduce stigma, provide education, and help consumers understand how cannabis could be a viable holistic option for their needs. As a Gen X African-American woman, her journalistic focus is on the women and people of color doing amazing things in the industry, especially in her hometown of Oakland.