GREEN PIECE: Colorado sets a new standard for going green

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First Posted: 7/8/2014

I wanted to hold off on this topic for a while simply because I wanted to visit the state of Colorado and experience the place that’s making history firsthand. I have been to Colorado many times, but this last visit was something entirely different.

It’s not the same Colorado I knew. It’s a thriving, progressive community where you can see the hope on people’s faces and feel the change in the air… and smell it. Pennsylvania, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

This year, Colorado allowed the sale of recreational marijuana to anyone the age of 21 and up. Residents and visitors alike can now buy marijuana like alcohol. It’s a big deal, and so far, so good.

While I was there, I learned a lot about the business, and although I knew that the legalization of marijuana was going to be a positive thing, I had no idea just how much of an impact it could have on the environment if the whole country legalized it.

When marijuana is grown illegally, it is often hidden and grown in national forests. Growers are too afraid of the legal repercussions, so they grow on land that isn’t theirs. Growing requires a lot more than simply water and sun. Pesticides are used, along with irrigation systems that often break, leaking wastes all over the land and wildlife. Piles of trash and human waste are left behind once the plants are harvested. The United States Forest Service publicly stated that, “They basically trash our lands.”

Sgt. Wayne Hanson of the Humboldt County Sherriff’s Office told California’s Times Standard News that it’s not uncommon for investigators to find complex mazes of plastic irrigation lines and large containers of high-powered pesticides, fertilizers, and rodenticides. He also said the amount of trash found at some sights is astonishing. Sadly, a lot of the waste gets left behind.

“We don’t have the time nor the resources to switch modes after we eradicate the marijuana into reforesting and cleaning up,” Hanson stated. “We remove the marijuana and look for suspects and clues, but we do not clean up the sites.”

If marijuana was legal, growers wouldn’t have to hide in the forests. Regulations could be imposed on how the plants are grown and farmers would have to abide by agricultural laws and practice sustainable farming.

Growing illegally is also using up a lot of water. Many farmers are growing in areas off the grid where they are illegally pumping millions of gallons of water without any regulation. Allowing marijuana to be grown outdoors legally could easily limit energy and water waste.

Illegal smuggling across the Mexican border is also another problem taking its toll on the environment. Drug cartels involved in smuggling use generators, diesel storage tanks, and even animal poison to preserve their product. Piles of trash and plastic water bottles are scattered along the border; even bags of marijuana are left behind. National parks and monuments along the border are now deemed unsafe because of all of the abandoned cars and backpacks found.

Let’s not forget how much money Colorado is making. In June, state tax collection numbers were released and Colorado saw a record high of more than $22 million in total retail sales. According to Governor John Hickenlooper, Colorado is expected to reach almost $1 billion in sales from marijuana. The state itself could be collecting $114 million in taxes. That’s a lot of tax money that could be put to good use. Don’t even get me started on what a state like Pennsylvania could do with tax money like that!

Over the next few years, I guarantee we will see a lot of states legalizing marijuana – let’s just hope that Pennsylvania isn’t the last to do it. In the meantime, I’m sure Colorado will be getting a lot of out-of-state visitors.