The United States government has added a new tool to their anti-marijuana toolbox, announcing yesterday that they are barring state-legal cannabis growers from using federally controlled irrigation water to grow their ganja. The announcement actually doesn’t change much – it’s been illegal to use federal water to grow marijuana for decades now. But the policy announcement also likely signifies a new era of enforcement from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water in 17 western states including Washington and Colorado.
Despite the fact that water use has traditionally been left up to local state governments, the feds say that states can’t allocate federal water for pot.
“As a federal agency, Reclamation is obligated to adhere to federal law in the conduct of its responsibilities to the American people,” Dan DuBray, chief of public affairs for the USBR, said in a press release. “Reclamation will operate its facilities and administer its water-related contracts in a manner that is consistent with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, as amended. This includes locations where state law has decriminalized or authorized the cultivation of marijuana. Reclamation will refer any inconsistent uses of federal resources of which it becomes aware to the Department of Justice and coordinate with the proper enforcement authorities.”
In short: if you use federal water to grow your plants, the USBR is going to rat you out to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Dispensary owners in Washington said this is just more of the same from the feds, who have chipped away at state rights for some time. Despite the new directive, owners say they’ll find water somehow.
“It looks like another case of public officials acting against the better interests of themselves and their constituency due to a lack of critical thinking,” Naomi McCulloch with Green Lion Farms in Seattle tells NBC News. “The general feeling is that there are ways to get water, if one source closes, another will open. It takes a lot of fortitude and planning to be a farmer, of any crop. If the government throwing up obstacles to our success stopped us, we wouldn’t have made it this far,” McCulloch said.
Elan Nelson, a business consultant for Denver dispensaries agreed. She said that the industry has found a way to flourish despite anti-pot federal policies.
Some dispensary owner say they’ll pay for private water every few weeks as the cannabis crop is too valuable to not grow. One farmer in Washington pointed out that cannabis is 500 times more profitable than blueberries – the most profitable legal crop in Washington state.
“That means cannabis is going to be 500 times more valuable than the most valuable crop in the state,” said Alan Schreiber, a cultivator who has applied to grow for pesticide research. “How hard do you think it would be, if you’re growing a crop for $7 million an acre, to get a 5,000-gallon tank of water and fill it every two weeks?”
“We’re used to this kind of treatment, the federal government looking for one obstacle after another to place hurdles before this industry,” Nelson told the AP. “Pretty soon it’s going to be air. They’re going to say you can’t use the air because it belongs to the federal government. It’s just ridiculous.”
One exception to this would be growers in the City of Denver. Denver Water does not rely on the feds for assistance and therefore the USBR doesn’t have jurisdiction over Denver’s water supply.