Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) this week introduced the Protecting Lands from Narcotics Trafficking Act (PLANT Act) to combat environmental damage and public-safety hazards caused by illegal marijuana grows on federal and trespassed lands.
Drug trafficking activity has been confirmed on U.S. Forest Service land in 21 states and is particularly acute in California. In 2014, the Forest Service reported that more than 620,000 marijuana plants were removed from 167 grow sites, spanning approximately 1,500 acres in the state. Ninety-five percent of marijuana plants removed by the Forest Service in 2014 were in California.
Drug traffickers also trespass on private lands, divert scarce water resources from legitimate uses and cause environmental damage. Marijuana grow sites often involve significant landscape alteration, the use of toxic chemicals and serious harm to wildlife.
“Drug traffickers, motivated by greed, cannot be allowed to poison our lands and pollute our waters to produce illegal drugs,” said Senator Feinstein. “Traffickers frequently use firearms to guard their illegal grow sites, which threatens public safety and prevents Americans from enjoying our natural heritage. Our bill seeks to increase penalties and fines to combat the damage caused by these criminals.”
“The illegal growth of marijuana on public lands has taken the dangers of international drug trafficking and brought them into our Utah parks and communities, and wrought havoc on our beautiful lands,” said Senator Hatch. “This important legislation will give prosecutors the tools they need to address these problems, protect hikers and explorers, and reduce the illegal drugs that find their way into our neighborhoods and schools.”
Last year, Senator Feinstein worked with the U.S. Sentencing Commission to ensure that current sentencing guidelines better reflect the damage done by drug traffickers cultivating marijuana on federal lands or while trespassing on private lands.
This bill builds on that action by directing the Sentencing Commission to increase penalties for illegal drug production on federal and trespassed lands if offenders:
- Create a hazard to humans or animals;
- Degrade or harm the environment or natural resources;
- Pollute or divert an aquifer or body of water; or
- Use or possess a firearm.
The PLANT Act also establishes new fines for water diversion and the clearcutting of trees to cultivate a controlled substance. It directs that collected fines be used to address the environmental damage caused by illegal drug production.