California’s black market herb is still covered in pesticides
California’s legal weed market has been thriving since adult sales began in 2018, but state and federal law enforcement agencies are still struggling to eradicate illegal weed growing areas that are poisoning forests and wildlife with toxic pesticides.
Under California law, all legal weed products must be thoroughly tested to ensure they are free of toxic pesticides or other dangerous contaminants. However, the cost of meeting these testing and safety requirements makes Cali weeds one of the most expensive legal weeds in the country. Illegal pot planters can ignore these regulations by lowering their costs even further by using cheaper, banned pesticides.
The illegal pesticide market has actually exploded in recent years. Many toxic pesticides that are banned in the US and Europe are available cheaply in China and Mexico, and global criminal organizations are taking this opportunity to smuggle these cheap chemicals into the US. Pesticide smugglers have realized that there is a huge market for their goods in Northern California, where black market weed breeders have set up illegal acreage on federal forest land.
In 2018, researchers found that around 90 percent of these illegal growers were using toxic, banned pesticides. Further research found that these chemicals penetrated soil, rivers and streams and poisoned plants and wildlife. And even after these plants are eradicated, the pesticides used in these locations can pollute the soil and water for years.
Carbofuran, one of the most popular insecticides for illegal potting, is extremely toxic to birds, fish, and all mammals, including humans. Touching, inhaling, or swallowing this chemical can cause tremors, blurred vision, coma, and death. Diazinon, another pesticide found in many illegal growing areas, can cause breathing difficulties, convulsions, and coma.
Animals encountering these illegal growing areas have been injured or killed by these poisons, and now that the chemicals enter the waterways, they can poison fish and even people. Police officers and forest officials tasked with destroying black market growth are also at risk of being poisoned by pesticides used in this cultivation.
These contaminated weeds are also poisonous to anyone who consumes them. “Pesticide residue in cannabis that has been dried and inhaled goes straight into the bloodstream,” Clyde Ogg of the University of Nebraska told the Times of San Diego.
As of September 2019, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern California District has initiated 49 criminal cases against pesticide smugglers. In 2020, 40 percent of all US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) law enforcement actions involved trafficking in pesticides.
But unlike drug smuggling, where a conviction can land you in jail for decades, the penalties for pesticide smuggling are relatively light. In a recent case, a man arrested for smuggling 8 liters of carbofuran from Tijuana to California was fined $ 1,200 and sentenced to just two months in prison. This combination of low risk and high profits makes it even more tempting for criminal organizations to smuggle these banned pesticides into the country.