In a report entitled “The Growing Issues of Marijuana Cultivation in Trinity County,” the 2013/14 Trinity County grand jury weighed in on the economic impacts and environmental harm from what it said is a major and growing industry in the county, “both legal and illegal.”
The report, issued at the end of June, said marijuana growers in Trinity County are not compelled to follow sustainable agricultural practices, noting that large quantities of nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides are in use that are often illegal in general farming practice because of their toxicity to plants and animals. It said the lack of local regulations has also left growers free to put in roads and culverts or make wholesale changes in creeks.
The grand jury noted that water from streams and wells is often diverted for marijuana cultivation, resulting in “enormous impacts on the entire ecosystem, especially under drought conditions. As the water is used to nurture marijuana plants, the runoff contains poisonous contaminants that enter the water table which ultimately impacts the health of the ecosystem, including the fish, birds and humans.”
The report indicated the economic effects of marijuana “are very interesting because large amounts of money are brought into the community to procure farming materials, such as water storage vessels, irrigation equipment, fertilizers, pesticides and tools.” It said the marijuana business produces millions of dollars in profits that feed many legitimate businesses in Trinity County, but very little of the profit finds its way into the county government coffers.
Concluding that the marijuana industry has become an integral part of Trinity County’s economy that could also “become a new source of taxation that can benefit the entire community,” the grand jury found the county lacking in sufficient regulations, practices and taxes “to manage and benefit from the enterprise.”
Regarding law enforcement, the grand jury found that the District Attorney’s office, lacking in sufficient resources to manage all referrals, is selective as to what cases it will prosecute. Many are never brought to trial, but rather plea bargained down to only confiscation of money and marijuana.
It also found that growers are willing to take chances on illegal plots in Trinity County because the probability of any law enforcement action “is sufficiently limited that the profit prospects generally produce an overall net gain.”
Acknowledging that management of marijuana cultivation in Trinity County “is most assuredly an enormous and complicated problem,” the grand jury noted that other counties including Humboldt and Mendocino have worked to implement sustainable farming practices and regulation including tight controls on water diversions and land modifications such as road building to manage legitimate marijuana grows.
The report said that in the case of illegal marijuana grows, no complete solution can be implemented without full cooperation of state, federal and county governments.
Given Trinity County’s minimal law enforcement resources, it said “the illegal industry will continue to grow with increased negative impacts on the environment. Strangely, Trinity County reaps some economic benefit from the grows, but suffers from increased criminality and environmental damage.”
The report offered a number of recommendations, including one that the Trinity County Board of Supervisors clarify the county’s stance on marijuana growing within the county, defining best agricultural practices, water and pesticide restrictions, land use/trafficking/collective growing requirements, taxation rules and permits.
It also recommended that the District Attorney’s office publish its policies on enforcing marijuana regulations and recommend a set of codes/land use rules that will ensure that legitimate growers meet environmental standards.
The grand jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors establish a working group to study and recommend ways “to not only control, but also benefit from the illegal growers.” In that effort, it recommended “the question of how illegality can be transformed into legality must be considered. Will the Washington/Colorado models work for Trinity County? Would creative fining be a way to bring illegitimate growers into the community?”
The grand jury also advised the citizens of Trinity County to familiarize themselves with the water rights of private citizens “before they find they have none. In 2013, there were less than 10 well permits issued for the Southern Trinity, Trinity Pines area. So far in 2014, more than 75 permits have been applied for. The water table and the aquifers that supply the water do not have an unlimited supply of water.”
It concluded that the Board of Supervisors “must implement a plan to regulate the use of agricultural chemicals before the pristine drinking water we all take for granted is irreversibly damaged or destroyed.”
Responses to the report have been requested from the Board of Supervisors and the county administrative officer.