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Harsher penalties sought for illegal pot farmers

  • Marijuana plants (PD FILE)

With illegal marijuana cultivation wreaking environmental havoc across the nation, North Coast Reps. Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman are seeking new penalties for harm done to woodlands, waterways and wildlife.

The two Democrats, joined by a pair of Republicans, introduced the Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking Act, nicknamed the PLANT Act, aimed at imposing penalties for environmental damage from pot gardens and other illegal drug production on public lands and private property.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, who represents the marijuana- rich Emerald Triangle of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, said pot grows are “threatening endangered wildlife, contaminating fragile salmon streams and making forests unsafe for working and recreation.”

Thompson, D-Napa, said there should be “stiff penalties for the people whose reckless and illegal actions” are damaging natural resources.

A Sonoma County report last year said 3.6 million marijuana plants were seized on about 9,100 acres of California public lands in 2008.

The pot's street value was more than $14 billion; the cost of cleaning up the land was estimated at $100 million.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who served on an ad hoc county committee on medical marijuana last year, hailed the move to “crack down on environmental crime.”

Zane said she got an “eye-opener” from touring a major pot growing and processing operation with law officers near Santa Rosa and seeing gallons of toxic pesticides at the scene.

On a Sheriff's Department helicopter flight, Zane said she saw a large trash dump on a Sonoma Valley mountaintop that was also a pot garden.

Scientists at UC Davis said that 80 percent of California fisheries have been exposed to high doses of rat poison related to illegal marijuana grows, the county report said.

Nearly 1 million pot plants were eradicated from 471 sites on national forest lands in 20 states last year, accompanied by damage that included leveled hilltops, diverted streams and excessive pesticide use, the congressmen said in a statement.

Drug cultivation on public property is already a crime, “but prosecutions are rare and environmental damage is almost never fully accounted for,” they said.

The PLANT Act, which was referred to a House committee, instructs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to establish penalties for drug-related environmental damage.

Zane said the penalties “need to be severe enough to deter” the illegal activity. “We know this is a lucrative industry. People are making millions on it.”

Co-sponsoring the bill were Republican Reps. Doug LaMalfa, whose district covers vast public lands from Truckee to Mount Shasta, and Doug Lamborn of Colorado.

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)

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