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Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
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Impacts of Cannabis Farming on The Emerald Triangle

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2948 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Part 1 

 “Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere!” (Washington, 1794). We followed this advice, but it was with little thought of the impact that overproduction has on natural resources.  Named from being the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States, the Emerald Triangle comprises Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties (“Emerald Triangle,” 2018). This region produces some of the best cannabis in the world. With this fame, growers developed strains unique to the area’s biodiversity (Parker Karris, 2018). However, this success comes with heavy environmental and socioeconomic impacts. This report will focus on how legal commercial cannabis production in the Emerald Triangle is creating forest fragmentation, stream modifications, soil erosion, and poisoning wildlife. It will also address how the profits of this industry cause socioeconomic controversy, affecting the decision making of policy makers and planners (Berke, 2018).

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Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in California, demand for the product has increased. With increased demand, the Emerald Triangle has experienced a land rush. People want in on this new market. Most land being sold is undeveloped and preparing a site to grow marijuana involves cutting down interior forests and making roads (Davis, 2018). The journal Environmental Research Letters looked at 4400 grow sites in Humboldt County, California. They discovered 68% of grow sites were over 500 meters from the main road, causing road construction to the sites, forest fragmentation, and loss of habitat for woodland creatures. An additional 22% were on steep slopes, increasing soil erosion, sedimentation, and landslides (Butsic & Brenner, 2016).

 Marijuana, like many crops, requires a great deal of water. During the flowering stage, plants consume up to six gallons, per plant, per day. Add that to the estimated 297 954 plants and water consumption would be near 700 000 m3 a day. Farms have been diverting the area’s rivers for irrigation. This practice has completely dried up streams that endangered salmon use to spawn (Ashworth and Vizuete, 2017).

            Pesticide spraying in Marijuana is much like other crops, but with one major difference. Marijuana is still illegal on a federal level and no regulatory oversight exists. Grow Operations in California have poisoned bears, owls, foxes, and other creatures by them ingesting poisons intended for other pests (Gianotti, A. G., Harrower, J., Baird, G., & Sepaniak, S., 2017). Of these rodenticides, one found in the tested crops was Carbofuran, which is a powerful neurotoxin banned in the United States and Canada (Thompson, Gabriel Purcell, 2018).

On top of the towering environmental issues, a socioeconomic controversy remains.

Politicians claim there is a moral issue in legalizing marijuana, but in contrast, they allow automatic firearms, opioids, tobacco, and alcohol. The real incentive to keep marijuana illegal is Section 280E, a tax provision blocking illegal businesses from making tax claims. Because marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug, businesses can’t write off business expenses, even in states where marijuana is legal. As a result, the IRS saves an estimated $500 million a year on those tax write-offs (“How Much Money is the U.S. Government Making by Keeping Weed Illegal?”, 2018).

Police forces and private jails enjoy federal funding in the war on drugs. Law enforcement agencies collected over $1 billion from marijuana arrests and receive grants of over $2.4 billion to support marijuana enforcement. Marijuana legalization would impact several industries such as alcohol, tobacco, private prisons, and Big Pharma. As a result, they lobby the government to keep cannabis illegal (“How Much Money is the U.S. Government Making by Keeping Weed Illegal?”, 2018). When you examine the profits made from socioeconomic controversies, it becomes easy to see why policymakers are keeping marijuana illegal for as long as possible.

Offsetting these issues can start at a cooperative farming level. Farmers can capitalize on the thought many cannabis users are environmentally friendly consumers and would pay a premium for cannabis grown sustainably (Gomez, 2018). Farms can adopt closed-loop farming, where everything that grows on the land, goes back into the land. Plant waste can go into nutrient mixes, compost, and pest repellants. Add Organic Farming, which has shown to decrease soil erosion by supporting weed development in the furrows. Take this a step further and farmers can apply mulches made from dead leaves and shredded wood on the soil. Over time mulches from organic materials break down and increase the structure and nutrients in the soil (Lori, Symnaczik, Mäder, Deyn, & Gattinger, 2017).

            Water diversion has been a major issue to the Emerald Triangle. To help offset water consumption emerging technologies and practices can be used. An irrigation system capable of saving rivers from water diversion is gravity fed irrigations systems. These collect rainwater into reservoirs, supplying the rainwater to the crops through gravity feed drip irrigation (Bhatnagar & Srivastava, 2003). To maximize efficiency, farmers can automate the system and sync it with a weather app. The app can let the system know when it will rain, so the irrigation system can shut off in advance. Studies have shown that installing a gravity-fed irrigation system reduce water usage by 50% and increase yields by 33% (“Proximity Designs Gravity-Fed Drip Irrigation Systems”, n.d.) These approaches can take cannabis farming past sustainable farming, into regenerative farming. Farming practices that increase biodiversity, enrich soils, improve watersheds, and enhance the ecosystem (“Sustainability Is Not Enough”, 1998).

Part 2

            Cannabis dominates the Emerald Triangle, helping the economy after the collapse of the fishing and timber industries (Meisel, 2017). Cannabis is an exciting new way for investors to make money and a solid way for the area to regenerate their economy. From an ecological viewpoint, many of the economic systems are irrational; although they are rational to the individual business or capitalist looking to make a profit.

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            Cannabis flower averages around $2,100 per pound, and each acre of land produces over 500 pounds of usable dry cannabis flower. Marijuana is also grown from cuttings, so you are starting with mature plants that need little vegetation time. This allows farmers to turn four crops per year. Estimations of the total marijuana market in the Emerald Triangle is tens of billions of dollars, larger than many traditional agricultural products, like grapes or corn. The communities’ in the area are using this newly found tax revenue to build schools, fix roads and strengthen their economy. A Mendocino County study estimates that two-thirds of the community’s economy is from marijuana (“Why California’s Emerald Triangle Produces The Best Weed In The World,” 2017). Above we discussed how there is a logical economic worldview given the incentives and demands for a capitalist market, but let’s review ecological views that oppose capitalism.  

            The growth of the industrial revolution in the 19th century separated people from the land used to make food. Further separation occurred when factory farming separating animals from the land used for food production. When livestock inhibits your farm, the by-product is used as organic fertilizer, thus, eliminating the needs to truck in large quantities of fertilizers. The impact of using commercial fertilizers are energy use in mining, production, transportation and application, combined with pollution and decreasing soil health through loss of organic matter and erosion (Dupej, 2018).

            There is a loss of biodiversity as farmers eliminate native plants to grow crops. Losing native plant species drives a loss of natural resilience over disease and pests. There is also a loss in diversity in the soil as they grow single crops using the organic matter in soil without replenishing it (Dupej, 2018). Another loss of diversity is the loss of genetic diversity. Although this has not affected the Marijuana industry yet, large corporations are looking to patent genetically modified cannabis (Arsenault, 2018). This would cause the areas crops to lose that natural resilience to pest and disease that genetically diverse crops have.   

            Modern day farming relies on significant inputs of energy from fossil fuels. It’s easy to think about driving down the highway passing a huge tractor tilling the field, but most of the energy expenditure is through production and application of nitrogen fertilizer. Significant energy is used to convert the nitrogen gas from the atmosphere to a form that can be used by plants. Fertilizer production also comes with the bi-product that large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere, causing an increased buildup of Greenhouse Gasses in the atmosphere (Mulvaney, Khan, & Ellsworth, 2009).

            In conclusion, the push from the ecological views to protect the environment contrast the pulls from the economic views to maximize profit. The economic world produces an abundance of waste; true nutrient cycling is lost; pollution is created; crops are not rotated; biodiversity is lost; among other problems to maximize profit. Contrast this to the ecological world where individual cooperatives would supply the local economy with an adequate quantity, quality, and variety of cannabis while managing land in ways that benefit the ecosystem. The sustainably of the land would be achieved by working with the ecosystems, instead of dominating them. To gain this farming, we would have to build a new socioeconomic structure, based on meeting the needs of the people and land, instead of striving for “more”.

 

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