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Rep. Jared Huffman: Legalize pot to regulate it and save environment

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North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman on Friday reiterated his desire to see marijuana legalized nationally, saying it would help bring rational management to pot cultivation and thus reduce damage to the environment.

Speaking before hundreds of scientists, wildlife officials, environmental stewards and others at an annual conference of the Salmonid Restoration Federation, Huffman said continuing down the current path is not an option, given the destructive impacts of industrial-scale marijuana cultivation. The activity, including illegal water diversions, toxic chemical use and poaching, has damaged North Coast streams and laid waste to large swaths of forest.

Huffman, D-San Rafael, represents roughly the northern third of California’s coast, where, he said, about 65 percent of the nation’s marijuana supply is grown — much of it through illegal trespass on public land.

“I don’t see anybody going out into federally designated wilderness areas to grow soybeans,” Huffman said at the Santa Rosa conference, “so I sort of start from the premise that you’ve got to create a place for those who want to grow and sell this stuff to do it in a transparent, lawful, regulated way.”

Marijuana cultivation was among three top threats to salmon recovery Huffman listed in his presentation, naming pot along with the ongoing drought and a Republican-controlled Congress that he said views California’s water woes through the lens of a conservative “dust bowl” narrative, in which Central Valley farmers were left high and dry by water policy that values wildlife over farming.

Alluding to what he called “open attacks” on the Endangered Species Act and the state constitution, Huffman said, “Congress right now, under current management, can’t seem to do anything constructive, and when it does act on California water and fishery issues, you better watch out.

He also pointed to the failure of a bipartisan bill he introduced in 2013 with Congressman Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and two western House Republicans that would have increased criminal penalties for those who wreck the environment with illegal marijuana grows on federal lands or private property. The U.S. Sentencing Commission, which sets sentencing policies and practices for federal courts, adopted many of its provisions last year.

Though his North Coast constituency is extremely diverse, Huffman said, all sides agree: “The environmental damage from these rampant industrial scale pot-growing operations is a huge problem that has to be addressed.”

Huffman has been vocal about his desire to see marijuana removed from the list of the most serious drugs in the eyes of the law, joining other lawmakers in saying that its continued listing as a Schedule 1 drug — like heroin — “perpetuates an unjust and irrational system” that diverts billions of dollars to enforcement and imprisonment disproportionate with the harm it causes.

States are now legalizing pot for adult recreational and medicinal use, but the disconnect with federal law means it can’t be taxed or permitted properly, and makes its cultivation so profitable that its grown increasingly by armed and violent criminals — and will continue to be if there are states where it remains illegal, he said Friday.

“There’s all sorts of reasons to address it, you know, but decriminalization, if you don’t get it right, is not going to solve the problem of trespass grows,” Huffman said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan​@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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