Could Legalizing Pot Help Stop California's Water Crisis?

By McCarton Ackerman 09/17/15

Regulation of the marijuana industry could help the Golden State save water.

cracked earth drought.jpg
Photo via

Legalizing marijuana and California’s water drought may appear to be two separate issues, but an editorial piece in Rolling Stone suggests that regulating the drug would also involve a crackdown on water usage.

California is in the midst of a drought believed to be the worst in 1,200 years and officials have attempted in vain to halt water usage for marijuana cultivation. A study published last March in the journal PLOS One estimates that marijuana plants require six gallons of water per plant per day. The growing season for these plants also comes during California’s typically dry summer months.

The state’s biggest cash crop for marijuana—estimated at $16 billion—is produced in the so-called Emerald Triangle of Humbolt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. However, the water from these crops is often diverted from rivers, lakes, and streams, or stolen from farmers whose water use is regulated by the state. This is also troubling because much of the Emerald Triangle is classified as ecologically vulnerable.

But writer S.E. Smith argues in her article that legalizing pot would encourage large marijuana grows to come down from the hills and thereby remove it from ecologically vulnerable areas. In addition to the environmental benefits, marijuana growers would also be required to grow their crops next to other farmers and thereby follow the same water regulations. It would also allow regulators to inspect these grows and offer suggestions for reducing water usage such as establishing a rainwater collection for the summer months.

Some water organizations are even planning ahead for what they see as the inevitable legalization of pot in the state. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board is in the process of setting up a multi-tiered system for permits associated with marijuana cultivation, while other pilot programs across the state are offering guidelines of how to cultivate marijuana in an environmentally conscious manner.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.