Congressman Jared Huffman

Representing the 2nd District of California

Huffman to U.S. Attorney Haag: Prioritize Prosecution of Trespass Marijuana Growers, Not Low-Level Marijuana Offenders

Jul 16, 2014
Press Release
Huffman: “These practices are the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health in the Northern District in this critical drought year.”

WASHINGTON­—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today sent a letter to United States Attorney Melinda Haag urging her to focus prosecutorial and enforcement resources on trespass marijuana growers, not low-level marijuana offenders complying with state law. Huffman, whose congressional district includes the “Emerald Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, stated that trespass marijuana grows are the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health in Haag’s jurisdiction in this critical drought year.

“Large trespass marijuana operations endanger the public with violence and threats of wildfires, pollute streams and wetlands, poison wildlife, fund criminal drug trafficking organizations, and undo significant federal, state, and private investment in the landscape,” Huffman wrote. “I encourage your office to make all prosecutorial and enforcement resources available to pursue these marijuana operations that directly threaten both the environment and public safety. I believe this should be prioritized far higher than enforcement actions against low level marijuana offenses, particularly individuals or dispensaries complying with state law.”

In 2012, nearly one million marijuana plants were eradicated from 471 sites on National Forest lands found in 20 states across the country. The operators of these illegal grow operations can level hilltops, start landslides on erosion-prone hillsides, divert and dam creeks and streams, and use excessive pesticides to grow their crop. They are also a constant threat to recreationists.

Individuals and private landholders, including ranchers, farmers, timber companies, and forest trusts, report that they are increasingly forced to confront criminals and remove drug operations from their own land, endangering lives and costing significant sums of money for eradication and reclamation.

Last year, Congressman Huffman and Senator Dianne Feinstein acted to crack down on these trespass marijuana grow operations by introducing the Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking Act (PLANT Act) in the House and the Senate. This bill would establish new penalties for those whose trespass marijuana operations harm the environment. After a sustained advocacy effort by Huffman, Feinstein, and other lawmakers, the U.S. Sentencing Commission announced in May that it would revise sentencing guidelines to encourage federal judges to increase penalties for criminals responsible for trespass marijuana operations. 

Huffman’s letter can be found below:

July 16, 2014

Hon. Melinda Haag
The United States Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California
Federal Courthouse
450 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

Dear Ms. Haag:

Thank you for your service to our community and ongoing commitment to the complex issue of marijuana enforcement. I write today to draw your attention to the serious threat to public safety and environmental health caused by so-called “trespass marijuana grows” on public and private land. I believe these practices are the greatest emerging threat to public safety and environmental health in the Northern District in this critical drought year, and I ask that your office focus your enforcement priorities and resources accordingly.

Large trespass marijuana operations endanger the public with violence and threats of wildfires, pollute streams and wetlands, poison wildlife, fund criminal drug trafficking organizations, and undo significant federal, state, and private investment in the landscape. In addition, these operations are exacerbating water shortages and conflicts in this critical drought because they invariably include illegal water diversions and/or water theft. I encourage your office to make all prosecutorial and enforcement resources available to pursue these marijuana operations that directly threaten both the environment and public safety. I believe this should be prioritized far higher than enforcement actions against low level marijuana offenses, particularly individuals or dispensaries complying with state law.

Nearly a year ago, Deputy Attorney General James Cole outlined leading federal marijuana enforcement priorities in a memorandum circulated to all U.S. Attorneys. The memorandum identified “preventing the growing of marijuana on public lands and the attendant public safety and environmental dangers posed by marijuana production on public lands” as particularly important to the federal government. This objective is also critical to the communities I represent in Congress, which comprise a significant portion of the Northern District.

The 2014 National Drug Control Strategy similarly states that national efforts should be focused on the threat to public safety and environment posed by trespass marijuana cultivation. Notably, the strategy does not direct enforcement against medical cannabis dispensaries or other operations that act in accordance with state laws.

Trespass marijuana grows violate both state and federal laws. Indeed, federal law regarding these activities is about to get stronger. This November, new federal sentencing guidelines will take effect that provide enhanced penalties for individuals responsible for trespass marijuana cultivation operations. The U.S. Sentencing Commission identified environmental factors as a key reason for this amendment to the guidelines. I encourage you to utilize these new prosecutorial tools when they become available.

I look forward to speaking with you personally regarding this matter in the near future.

Sincerely,

Jared Huffman

Member of Congress