Throughout the United States, various initiatives to legalize or decriminalize Marijuana have made significant changes in the enforcement of laws surrounding the use, sales, cultivation, and even the taxation of this plant. While many of these changes in legislation deal with the use and cultivation of Marijuana for personal or medicinal use, they don’t address the threat that the large scale cultivation of Marijuana has upon public safety and publicly managed lands. As the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states, “Marijuana is the only major drug of abuse grown within the U.S. borders.” (DEA web) As such, not only does the cultivation and harvest of Marijuana on public lands remain illegal, it has become an area in which Mexican drug trafficking organizations have become dominant in the production of illegal Marijuana for distribution in the United States. This occurs for a number of reasons. First, many of the publicly managed lands within the United States, such as national parks and forests are located in remote and heavily vegetated areas that not only provide some level of protection against discovery and eradication, but they also provide excellent water sources and fertile soils with which to grow and cultivate large quantities of Marijuana.
Second, Mexican drug trafficking organizations find it much easier and profitable to cultivate, and harvest Marijuana on public lands in the United States where they are closer to their intended drug markets. As such, Mexican drug traffickers not only increase their drug profits by having their Marijuana supply closer to their intended markets, but they don’t have to deal with the many issues of smuggling and transporting the drug across the U.S./ Mexican border. Around 2005, local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies began to pay particular attention to the increase in the number of the illegal Marijuana grows that were occurring on public lands. While indoor grows can provide Mexican drug trafficking organizations with a drug containing a high potency level of THC, Tetrahyrocannabinol (the psychoactive ingredient in Marijuana), they can’t provide the same high level of production that the outdoor grows can, especially with the large scale production level closer to drug markets in the United States. As Phil Taylor explains in a 2009 article that appeared in the New York Times, the control which Mexican drug cartels have gathered in the illegal Marijuana cultivation and distribution market in the United States has become especially noticeable in the number of illegal plant seizures and the environmental impact upon the land:
“We're seeing a shift to more organized grows and larger grows," said Kevin McGrath (a BLM law enforcement officer)..."They're being set up and run through the cartels, and it's becoming a big chunk of our work load.”…The Sierra (Nevada Mountains) operations are the latest in a growing number of illegal plantations run by foreign suppliers who have moved north of the U.S.-Mexico border where they are closer to U.S. drug markets. Of the 82 individuals arrested in the "Save our Sierras" sting, all but two were Mexican or some other foreign nationality. Bankrolled by sophisticated drug cartels, suppliers are sidestepping border patrols to grow in relative obscurity on Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service lands across the West and even into the Southeast…The drug plantations are as much an environmental menace as they are a public safety threat. Growers in Fresno County used a cocktail of pesticides and fertilizers many times stronger than what is used on residential lawns to cultivate their crop. "This stuff leaches out pretty quickly," said Shane Krogen, executive director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew in charge of helping clear the land of chemicals and trash so it can begin its slow restoration. While the chemical pesticides kill insects and other organisms directly, fertilizer runoff contaminates local waterways and aids in the growth of algae and weeds. The vegetation in turn impedes water flows that are critical to frogs, toads and salamanders in the Kings and San Joaquin rivers. (Taylor, web)