U.S. Government May Cut Off Water for Legal Pot Growers

By Shawn Dwyer 05/19/14

A decision by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation may come soon as to whether or not the feds will stop the flow of water to local districts contracted with the U.S. government.

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According to various reports, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is set to make a decision whether or not federal water supplies can be used to grow marijuana even in states where the drug has been legalized. Since marijuana remains a Schedule I drug and illegal at the federal level, states like Washington, which has two-thirds of its supplies for irrigated land coming from federal supplies, could see water cut off for state-legal marijuana growers.

The Bureau of Reclamation confirmed that it "is evaluating how the Controlled Substances Act applies in the context of Reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana-related activities,” said bureau spokesman Peter Soeth. He noted that the evaluation was already underway at the request of several local water districts in the West.

Because the districts are contracted to have some of their supplies come from federal sources, the expectation has been that the bureau will cut off the flow. “Certainly every indication we are hearing is that their policy will be that federal water supplies cannot be used to grow marijuana,” said Brian Werner at Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District.

Naturally, the pending decision has sparked concern among pro-marijuana forces who fear a step backwards after a string of victories in recent years. “If water is so precious and scarce that it can’t be used for state-legal marijuana cultivation, it shouldn’t be used for brewing and distilling more harmful intoxicating substances like beer and liquor,” said Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a marijuana advocacy group that helped push Colorado’s legal pot law.

Anti-legalization advocates see a potential shift in their favor if the bureau decides to cut off the water.  “I don’t think we should be too surprised that people who are breaking federal law cannot access federally controlled water,” said Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser for President Barack Obama and director of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “This is the kind of thing that happens when sloppy state laws pass and you try to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.