Does Legalization Lead to More Illegal Grows on National Forests?

Colorado is an interesting place to examine the phenomenon of “good industry/bad industry.” We watchers from the sidelines can ask questions like “who gets to pick which are good industries and bad industries?” “to what extent have political parties aligned with certain industries and not others?” and, of course, “why is regulation and scrutiny good for some and not for others?”. If we were all reasonable, would there be a reasonable level of regulation for each?

In Colorado, we have a unique opportunity to observe this, more or less in our face, as in the last session our elected officials determined that some industries need to be more highly regulated, and others less so.

Nationally, some thought it was OK to get a CEO of one (good) industry (recreation) to be Secretary of the Interior. But it was not OK to get lobbyists who have worked for other (bad) industries for the same post (e.g. Pruitt, Bernhardt).  My interest here is fairness in that industries are held to the same kinds of protections to public health and safety and to the environment, or that we should have transparent, public reasons why we think that they should be treated differently.

What is interesting to me is the idea that some industries (oil and gas) and not others (e.g., marijuana, ski areas) are to be held to the standard of “requires the commission to protect and minimize adverse impacts to public health, safety, and welfare, the environment, and wildlife resources and protect against adverse environmental impacts on any air, water, soil, or biological resource resulting from …. operations. This was part of state legislation on oil and gas, but seems to me that it could be applicable to any industry.

According to this recent Colorado Springs Gazette editorial, some industries can have overseers that are proponents.  They state

“Ean Seeb, the state’s new Special Adviser on Cannabis, comes straight from the pot industry. A Polis advocate during the campaign, Seeb is a longtime advocate of delivering pot like pizza, deregulating investments into Big Marijuana and allowing on-site cannabis tasking rooms.

Seeb is two-time chair of the National Cannabis Industry Association, which advocates for more pot sales. Seeb will serve as a walking conflict of interest. It’s like the Marlboro Man monitoring cigarette sales.”

Although it is not widely covered in the media, there are environmental impacts to growing marijuana (energy, pesticides),  safety impacts, and economic impacts.

For our purposes at The Smokey Wire, though, what is of interest is:

Dave Condit, deputy forest and grassland supervisor for the Pike-San Isabel Forest and Cimarron-Comanche National Grasslands, told The Gazette last year his jurisdiction’s entire budget could not cover the costs of removing foreign drug cartels invading the public lands he oversees.

We talked about this here last year when it first came out, but I’m curious as to whether this has been observed in any other state besides Colorado? I tried to get the numbers, but was told I would have to FOIA them. While I’m FOIAing, I could certainly do it nation-wide. Is anyone else interested in this topic?

9 thoughts on “Does Legalization Lead to More Illegal Grows on National Forests?”

  1. “Nationally, some thought it was OK to get a CEO of one (good) industry (recreation) to be Secretary of the Interior. But it was not OK to get lobbyists who have worked for other (bad) industries for the same post (e.g. Pruitt, Bernhardt).”

    You clearly are talking about former Sec. Sally Jewell.

    I’ve pointed this out before on this blog, but Sally Jewell is a trained petroleum engineer who started her career with Mobil Oil Corporation in the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma and the exploration and production office in Denver, Colorado.

    • Does the kind of training a person had cancel out their work for corporations? My point was not that some people in those jobs are lawyers and should be.. geologists or wildlife biologists,, as desirable as that might be.

      It’s that if you are in charge of regulating an industry (be it recreation or oil and gas) you would have to apply the same “past employment” criteria to be fair. In the case of Interior, it would be “never worked for or lobbied a regulated industry.”

      Which is a bit funny to think of as I first met Harris Sherman, the former Undersecretary for Natural Resources in the Obama administration, when he was a lawyer representing the ski industry.

      A lawyer in and out of government, knew the issues from the government side and the industry side, and I thought he was darn good. So I think it’s more about the person and her experience and being able to understand both sides, than it is about their original degrees or former employers.

      • “So I think it’s more about the person and her experience and being able to understand both sides, than it is about their original degrees or former employers.”

        I think that answers your own question. It should be about knowledge, not loyalty. The bigger problem with the oil and gas types seems to be how they view their role as continuing to be advocates for their former (and likely future) employers.
        (Zinke and Pruitt suggest a pattern:
        Have there been examples like this on the D/environmental side?

        • Jon, I think there are two separate things here..
          1. Industries
          2. Other interest groups (e.g. environmental)

          Of course, industries and interest groups meet with political appointees. Of course, politicians and political appointees listen to them and to the agencies and figure out what they think is the right path.
          Do they meet “secretly”? In one sense it doesn’t matter if it’s on the schedule or not, does it? They do meet.

          As to whether the previous D administrations met “secretly” we’d have to have had someone watching carefully, which I’m not sure that anyone has done.

          But this is interesting because some of the coverage either implies meeting with groups is not BAU, or it’s bad to meet with groups in alignment with you politically even though it is also BAU, or the oil and gas industry is bad so it’s bad to meet with them secretly or not.

          • My point was not really about the secrecy, but this point in the first article:
            “Lawmakers are interested in his calendars because of his previous career as an energy lobbyist, which required him to sign an ethics agreement when he joined the Interior Department in August 2017 that prohibits him from “personally and substantially” participating in “any particular matter” involving groups he used to represent.”

            This is what corporate-linked lobbyists seem to do when put in charge of governing their industries – they take actions that favor that industry. Oil and gas in particular. The other end of the political spectrum, not so much?

  2. I was curious about the budget Pike-San Isabel Forest and Cimarron-Comanche National Grassland. I search their website, but found nothing. I called their phone number and got an answering machine. You would think that basic information regarding the budget of a specific national forest would be available on a website, but apparently not. It’s likely best to just keep that information from the general public, unless they file a FOIA or spend a few hours digging.

  3. Yes I’m very concerned about foreign drug cartels using public lands to grow pot and profiting from it, to fuel terror and general instability activities. While I think legalizing pot is a good move, if it leads to the cartels being able to keep more profits because they need not launder the money, it’s not as good. Who wouldn’t be concerned? This legalization thing is all part of a bigger problem of defining some people in our society as felons for non violent crimes. Crimes which are now being de-criminalized because honestly they were a mistake in the first place. Climbing out of that hole will be tricky and it’s best if we take a strategic view, making sure impoverished groups int he US have a chance to grow pot and pull themselves out of poverty (rural, inner city, new citizens). That’s a million times better than some cartel padding its coffers and training terrorists with it.

    I’m guessing that anyone who would use federal lands illegally has been doing that for a while already. It’s just that it’s more convenient to move operations to Colorado now since the only risk is being found to be growing on federal land. Possession is less of a risk there. The concentration of such activity will hopefully ease once more states repeal old laws and possibly even the federal government. We have a lot of work to do to remedy the past.

    If you need confirmation of how the international drug trafficking system pays into terror, this is a good article to start with, though they’ve written several about how the instability fuels migration crises, and how the drugs, laundering, terror system works. If that doesn’t convince you how important it is that we get deregulation of pot right, then nothing will. I think we need to replicate what happened after Prohibition. And I think if people who were sick and have no official options (Fibromyalgia comes to mind) had safe access to pot, there would be less demand for harder drugs. Let the taxes fund treatment centers for those who overdo.

  4. This is a major problem in California Forests as well. I don’t know the dollar costs, but I have heard that employees in at least one Forest are regularly told they cannot work in certain areas because they might get shot at by growers. That is not to mention the ecological costs, including poisoning of fishers and other wildlife by pesticides (documented in research), trash, destruction of vegetation, water pollution, etc.

    Hard to say what the results of legalization will be.

    • Well, when I worked on the Eldorado NF in the late 80’s that was certainly the case but I thought that that might have been illegal growers on inholdings. It will be interesting to see if international criminal organizations develop more of a presence in the woods in California.


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