This Article explores the tension between land conservation and marijuana cultivation in the context of legalization. The legalization of marijuana has the potential to shift the locations of marijuana cultivation. Where cultivation need no longer be surreptitious and clandestine, growers may begin to explore sanctioned growing sites and methods. Thus, the shift to legalization may be accompanied by environmental and landuse implications. Investigating commercial-scale marijuana cultivation, this Article details how, in some ways, legalization can reduce environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation while also examining tricky issues regarding tensions between protected lands and marijuana cultivation. If we treat cultivation of marijuana the same as we treat cultivation of other agricultural crops, we gain stricter regulation of the growing process, including limits on pesticide usage, water pollution, wetland conversion, air pollution, and local land-use laws. Thus, legalization of marijuana should yield environmental benefits. And yet the story is, of course, more complicated than that. The strange status of marijuana as both a federally impermissible use and a stigmatized crop suggests that it will not fall under the same legal regimes as other agricultural products. In the realm of protected agricultural and conservation lands, a particular concern arises for land trusts grappling with proposals for marijuana cultivation. Where landowners receive federal tax benefits or land trusts rely upon federal laws for funding and legitimacy, the decision to grow marijuana on the land could have significant consequences. The Article reaches two main conclusions. First, in the absence of federal regulations, subnational governments should create and implement environmental and land-use regulations governing the cultivation of marijuana to ensure that legal grows do not continue the harmful practices involved with black market marijuana. Second, land trusts and agricultural protection organizations should not become involved with marijuana cultivation in any form while it remains illegal at the federal level. To do so puts both the land and their operations at risk.
Jessica Owley, Unforeseen Land Uses: The Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Land Conservation Programs, 51 U.C.D. L. Rev. 1673 (2018).