Rep. Huffman Applauds Final Approval of New Guidelines Aimed at Trespass Marijuana Grow Operations
WASHINGTON—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today announced that the U.S. Sentencing Commission has finalized guidelines to increase the criminal penalties for environmental damage caused by trespass marijuana grow operations, a proposal first introduced in Huffman’s bipartisan legislation known as the PLANT Act. These sentencing guidelines the result of a letter Huffman led with California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer asking that the federal agency join the legislators in working to counter the environmental damages of illegal drug production.
“I applaud the Sentencing Commission for approving this new legal tool to help us combat environmentally harmful trespass marijuana operations,” said Congressman Huffman, who represents the "Emerald Triangle" of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties in northern California. “The damage done to the environment and public safety by these trespass marijuana grow operations is staggering to witness in person, and I’m glad that the U.S. Sentencing Commission has provided law enforcement and the criminal justice system a way to crack down on these environmentally-destructive criminals. While we move towards a more rational marijuana policy—which I believe should include the decriminalization of marijuana—we need to ensure that where it is legal to grow marijuana, it is done responsibly and lawfully.”
In response to the Huffman-Feinstein-Boxer letter, the Sentencing Commission published a request for public comment in the Federal Register on January 17, 2014, seeking input on whether current sentencing guidelines properly account for environmental damage caused by trespass marijuana cultivation operations.
Cultivation of illegal drugs on federal property is already a crime under the Controlled Substances Act, but to date prosecutions have been rare and environmental damage rarely accounted for in full. The new Sentencing Commission guidelines, which became effective on November 1, will—for the first time—count environmental damages such as water diversions and vegetation removal as separate or aggravating offenses.
In July 2013, Congressman Huffman introduced the bipartisan PLANT Act, directing the Sentencing Commission to establish these new penalties for environmentally destructive practices. Sen. Feinstein introduced a companion bill in the Senate in December of 2013. The Sentencing Commission’s action is the result of this effort.
This August, Huffman toured the French Creek trespass marijuana grow in Trinity County, one of seven trespass marijuana grow sites in Humboldt and Trinity counties cleaned up by federal, state and local authorities in October. Cleanup of the sites restored 67.5 million gallons of water diversion (per grow season) and removed a total of:
- 8,188 pounds of fertilizer,
- 104 pounds of rodenticide,
- 560 gallons of insecticide,
- 68 ounces of concentrated Carbofuran (reconstitutes to 60-70 gallons),
- 205 bags (50 gal.) of garbage, and
- 8.5 miles of irrigation line.
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 level hilltops, starting landslides on erosion-prone hillsides; divert and dam creeks and streams; and use excessive pesticides to grow their crop.
Individuals and private landholders, including ranchers, farmers, timber companies, and forest trusts, report that they are increasingly forced to confront criminals and eradicate drug operations from their own land, endangering lives and costing significant sums of money for eradication and reclamation.