Unregulated marijuana operations are detrimental to the environment, wildlife and humans.
Scientists are worried about the negative effects they are seeing from contamination and toxins at the grows, as well as the potential unknown harm.
“Definitely scary, I wouldn’t suggest people smoke this stuff,” said Wildlife Biologist Mark Higley.
But a lot of people do, marijuana is the most common illegal drug used in the United States, with an average of 18 million consumers a year.
“If you eat it like in brownies or something, it has a better chance of getting into the system that route,” said Higley.
Wildlife Biologist Mark Higley has been studying the effects of the illegal marijuana gardens on the environment since 2008, his concern is the dangerous impact it could also have on users.
“No one has done any studies on that but we have talked to people in higher places to say we need to look at that to see what is going on,” said Higley.
The long-term effects on humans who consume the drug are unknown, and scientists say that’s a scary reality. Some of the cannabis grown in the forests has been laced with hazardous levels of toxins and chemicals, some with enough to kill a 300 pound bear.
In Higley’s research he discovered an enormous amount of fishers who were dying after ingesting animals with the poison from a grow site.
“They can come across and pick up rodents that have been poisoned or eat the poison themselves,” said Higley, “they could lose over half their body weight during that time period it’s got to be a painful death to die from that.”
Law enforcement agents need to use gloves to collect toxin laced plants, because exposure to their bare skin could harm them.
“They go into grow sites and the residual toxins are on the plants have made them sick and because they have been sprayed and they are flying off the plants,” said Higley.
The destruction to the environment is also detrimental, large quantities of fertilizer were left over from an abandoned garden in Trinity County, scattered throughout the area.
“We are worried about the fertilizer mobilizing because they are all soluble in making their ways down into water courses into the river systems and change the ecosystem and stream courses,” said Higley.
Growers usually leave a large amount of trash behind at their campsites and 75% of the time the mess never gets cleaned up.
“The debris and trash left behind and the potential for these illegal toxicants and rodenticide and herbicide we don’t know what the long term impact is going to be,” said Trinity County Sheriff Bruce Haney.
A leftover campsite in Trinity County had a garbage dump filled with trash right in the middle of the forest, as well as propane tanks which pose a fire hazard.
“A lot of times the chemicals left behind with unsuspecting hunters and hikers, and anyone can go in and be exposed to these chemicals that we are not trained to deal with,” said Sheriff Haney.
The gardens require major work to the land and diversions of water from streams.
“Just being here clearing land for planting and changing water courses is illegal and it’s the public resource that’s being destroyed,” said Higley.
Scientists say at this rate, the future looks bleak, especially if something isn’t done soon to clean up this mess.
“It’s death by a thousand cuts, you basically are doing a lot of bad things to the environment on a relatively small scale throughout the whole area and its completely unregulated.” Said Higley.