Congress is currently debating new plans to use remote-controlled drones to track down illegal weed grows in California's Emerald Triangle.
The House Appropriations Committee discussed these plans in a new report included in the Department of the Interior’s annual spending bill. Each year, the committee attaches a report to the department’s annual budget bill detailing the spread of illegal cannabis cultivation on public lands. This year's report is unique, though, because it specifically encourages the use of drones to search out illegal weed grows on federal land.
“The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California,” the report states, according to Marijuana Moment. “These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites.”
“The Committee also supports the Department of the Interior’s use of drones to conduct statewide remote-sensing surveys of federal public lands to identify grow sites and allow for the development of cost estimates for reclamation after concerns about cybersecurity, technology, and domestic production have been addressed,” the report concludes.
The report does not go into further detail about these concerns, but the cybersecurity issues most likely involve the federal government's recent decision to ground hundreds of its Chinese-made drones over security risks. The committee also fails to explain the domestic production issues that need to be addressed, but it is possible that the feds will want to devise a way to distinguish California-licensed legal weed producers from illegal grow-ops.
There may be hundreds of thousands of illegal cannabis farms all across the US, but a huge percentage of the country's black market weed is grown in Northern California. Despite the strength of the Golden State's legal adult-use market, illicit weed production still vastly outpaces legal cultivation, providing black market dealers with more than 10 million tons of pot every single year.
Many of these grows take place on federally-owned forest land in the “Emerald Triangle” region of Northern California, one of the country's best climates for cannabis production. These unlicensed grows largely rely on illegal pesticides to protect their crops, though, and runoff from these toxic chemicals has been poisoning local lands, wildlife, and waterways.
Between 2014 and 2016, the US Forest Service seized 2.6 million pot plants from grow-ops on federal lands, and these raids still continue today. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has failed to properly clean up many of these sites, and toxic pesticide residue continues to poison local plants and wildlife.
California law enforcement agencies have partnered with federal authorities and the National Guard in an attempt to destroy these illicit grows. In one single week last May, Humboldt County cops confiscated 30,000 illegal weed plants and over 8,000 pounds of processed bud, but this only amounts to a tiny small percentage of the total amount of the black market weed grown in the county.
Even if the feds do approve their drone plan, recent reports have found that heavy-handed law enforcement efforts have been largely ineffective at cutting down on black market grows, much like the War on Drugs in general.