Environmental Remediation Bill for Unlawful Cannabis Cultivation Heads to Senate Hearing

Illegal cannabis cultivation has emerged as a major threat to wildlife throughout California due to the rampant use of pesticides, habitat destruction, and water diversions associated with the trespass grows overlapping the habitats of sensitive species. In counties where cannabis cultivation is prohibited, like Siskiyou County, illicit cannabis farms have devastated wildlife. Representing California’s North Coast, Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Jim Wood is the lead sponsor of a bill (AB 2643) to address the environmental harm caused by illicit cannabis cultivation on California’s public and private lands. Under the legislation as currently drafted, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), which has established the Watershed Enforcement Program and the Watershed Protection Task Force, would be required to: (1) complete a study by January 1, 2027 creating a framework for cannabis site restoration projects funded by the Cannabis Grant Restoration Program; (2) facilitate, in collaboration with federal agencies, bi-annual stakeholder meetings to delineate the most effective strategies for restoring lands harmed by illicit cannabis cultivation, for eradicating illicit cultivation, and for adding measures to achieve watershed-scale restoration; and (3) submit an annual report to the Legislature until January 1, 2030 on illicit cannabis cultivation and on the status of efforts to repair habitat degradation and other environmental damage in watersheds affected by cannabis cultivation. The bill would also establish a Cannabis-Impacted Lands Restoration Fund, which would be maintained by penalties assessed for violations of environmental laws associated with illicit cannabis cultivation and production. Nearly seventy-percent (70%) of California city and county governments continue to implement cannabis cultivation bans, prohibitions that do not stop the environmental consequences of illicit cannabis cultivation and may even exacerbate these consequences. AB 2643 passed the Assembly unanimously last month and will next be taken up on June 17 at a hearing before the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee in the California Legislature.