Marijuana on Public and Tribal Lands

The United States has an abundance of public lands set aside by Congress for conservation, recreational use, and enjoyment of the citizens of this country and visitors from around the globe.  Unfortunately, criminal organizations are exploiting some of our most pristine public and tribal lands as grow sites for marijuana. 

During calendar year 2012, nearly 3.6 million plants were removed from more than 5,000 illegal outdoor grow sites in the United States.  More than 43 percent of the marijuana plants eradicated in 2012 were eradicated from public and tribal lands.  The U.S. Forest Service reports that nearly 83 percent of the 1,048,768 plants eradicated from National Forests were eradicated in California. Marijuana grow sites are typically in excess of 1,000 plants per site and sometimes more than 200,000 plants.

Public Safety

Individuals associated with Transnational Criminal Organizations are often involved in growing marijuana on public and tribal lands and can be armed and dangerous.  Individuals tending domestic grow sites often use weapons—such as semiautomatic assault rifles and high-powered rifles—against intruders to protect grow sites.  The number of intimidation incidents and the amount of violence associated with illegal marijuana grows on public lands has increased over the last two years. 

Environmental Concerns

Outdoor marijuana cultivation is harmful to the environment.  It negatively affects wildlife, vegetation, water, soil, and other natural resources because of chemicals, fertilizers, terracing, and poaching.  Cannabis cultivation results in the chemical contamination and alteration of watersheds; diversion of natural water courses; elimination of native vegetation; wildfire hazards; poaching of wildlife; and harmful disposal of garbage, non-biodegradable materials, and human waste.

Law enforcement officials are also increasingly encountering dumpsites of highly toxic insecticides, chemical repellants, and poisons purchased by drug trafficking organizations, and transported into the country.

Cultivators apply insecticides directly to plants to protect them from insect damage. Chemical repellants and poisons are applied at the base of the cannabis plants and around the perimeter of the grow site to ward off or kill rats, deer, and other animals that could cause crop damage.  These toxic chemicals enter and contaminate ground water, pollute watersheds, and kill fish and other wildlife. 

Response

ONDCP coordinates closely with Federal, state, local, and tribal agencies to disrupt this illegal market, while increasing efforts to reduce the demand for marijuana in the United States through prevention and treatment. ONDCP and the Department of Interior, through the Public Land Drug Control Committee (PLDCC), are working closely with the DEA, other Federal public lands agencies, the National Drug Intelligence Center, and the National Guard Bureau to combat this threat. 

The DEA, National Guard, as well as state and local agencies also provide critical assistance in funding, helicopter support, and intelligence analysis.  The DEA, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian tribes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Homeland Security agencies have increased their joint enforcement and investigative efforts with state and local enforcement agencies. 

By investigating, removing, and reclaiming these illegal grow sites, and by apprehending and prosecuting the drug offenders and traffickers who operate them, Federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies are protecting public safety and the environment, while depriving marijuana traffickers of their illicit revenue.