The recreational use of marijuana is now officially legal in California, but there are still many unknowns surrounding its impact on the physical and political landscape. According to Pomona College Professor of Environmental Analysis Char Miller, one of the least explored is the environmental effect that illegal marijuana production brings on public, private and tribal lands. This is the subject of his new book, Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy and Politics of Marijuana.
“Illegal marijuana growing has actually dewatered streams in northern California, and the hope is that legalization—and the related environmental regulations—that will now govern the legitimate producers will have a beneficial outcome on currently strapped watersheds,” says Miller. “But it will take a couple of years before we’ll know if that hope has turned into a reality.”
According to Miller, over the course of a year, in just one national forest in California, raids on illegal marijuana growing operations yielded 19,710 lbs. of building materials, 138 ounces of restricted poisons, 4,595 lbs. of fertilizer, 12 gallons of common pesticides, 5.6 miles of waterlines and 102 propane bottles. Even as efforts to legalize marijuana accelerate, such “trespass grows” spread exponentially—as does their punishing effect on the environment.
Miller is an expert in the intersection of U.S. environmental policy, history and politics. In Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy and Politics of Marijuana, an innovative and interdisciplinary anthology, Miller and his collaborators assess the broad spectrum of marijuana policy’s impact on land and water, flora and fauna, as well as the firsthand challenges faced by those tasked with responding to this tangled and often dangerous state of affairs.
Miller is the author and editor of many books on environmental history and public lands, including Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. California Dream and National Forests, Wildernesses, and Grasslands. His op-eds have appeared previously in The Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere.