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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Marijuana National Forest: Encroachment on California Public Lands for Cannabis Cultivation


Illegal marijuana cultivation on California public lands has become an increasingly significant problem affecting natural resources and public safety. The major perpetrators are Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations exploiting California’s abundant resources and lucrative markets for illegal marijuana. Cultivators degrade some of the few natural places left by altering land, diverting water, applying chemicals, and inhabiting sites for long periods of time. In order to reduce the long-term impacts, clean up and remediation efforts are conducted, but remain hindered by high costs, understaffing, and the remoteness of sites. Environmental remediation depends on the ability of law enforcement agencies to identify and seize sites. As the issue has become increasingly prominent, law enforcement agencies have adapted their efforts, but have only had a limited effect. In order to solve the problems that illegal marijuana production creates, cultivators must be prevented from exploiting public lands, and/or the incentive for doing so must be removed. These objectives can be reached through the right combination of education, law enforcement strategies, and public policy change.

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