Opinion Columns & Blogs

Shawn Bagley: Legal pot could help drought, environment, state coffers

We are going through an unprecedented drought, but I don’t have to tell you that. You see it every time you see a brown patch that used to be green grass or dirt that should be your family’s crop. It’s disgusting, and politicians in Sacramento aren’t doing anything about it except bickering.

Whenever they get back from their vacation, our legislators will finally decide to send a water bond to the November ballot. It’ll likely include appropriations for conveyance, storage and restoration – renovations to our water infrastructure that should have been put into place years ago. But there is one industry that we can change today to ensure more water comes through for our families and farmers – marijuana.

Politicians are too afraid to even mention the issue. They don’t trust the people they represent to be smart enough to have a rational discussion about marijuana. They’re afraid of being labeled as “pro-legalization” or “pro-regulation.” Well, I’m pro- realization.

I realize that illegal marijuana growers are polluting and diverting water from vital creeks, streams and groundwater sources. I realize that our law enforcement agencies are stretched too thin and don’t have the resources to combat heavily armed cartels. And I realize it’s time to figure out a reasonable solution to this problem.

Just in the last month, more than 1,000 illegal marijuana plants were discovered in California. Cultivating those plants meant bulldozing mountain sides to create flat land and dumping tons of fertilizer near creeks and streams. Water was diverted into industrial-sized tanks and moved from one watershed to another; dirt from razed mountainsides was pushed into creek channels, and dammed the creeks; fertilizer seeped into those creeks, depleting water sources.

Sheriffs have seen their budgets diminished year after year, so going directly after these cartels at a fast enough pace to eliminate them isn’t really an option. They simply cannot keep up with the “prohibition style” culture that has risen up out of this black market. While law-abiding farmers are cut off from their water supplies, these marijuana farmers continue to steal water to stay in business.

It’s not fair to our Valley farmers that these illegal growers use unlimited water to grow their crop. It’s not fair that Valley farmers have to pay for permits to grow when illegal marijuana growers just grow wherever they want without any regard for how it affects you and me.

So let’s level the playing field by making marijuana growers follow the permitting rules that all farmers must follow. Let’s take marijuana from the black market to the free market. Moving marijuana into the free market will enable other free-market actors to help the state ensure they’re playing by the rules we all abide by. As the only “pro-realization” candidate running for state Senate, I promise to tackle this issue so the outcome will help our state, not hurt it. I’m not afraid of these tough issues, and I’m not afraid to say the status quo isn’t working.

Some say that legalizing marijuana is inevitable in California. I have studied how Colorado and Washington have passed and enforced their new laws regarding marijuana. We can learn from their mistakes and make sure marijuana doesn’t end up in the hands of children, and marijuana farmers will have to play by the same rules.

In 1996 voters passed Proposition 215, allowing for personal medical marijuana use. This proposition was poorly written and resulted in legal challenges and gave more questions than answers. This is why the Legislature must step up and author a comprehensive marijuana bill. One that ensures our community’s safety, environmental protections and an economic benefit to our state.