New Study Shows Legal Cannabis Reduces Illegal Grows in National Forests

A new ecological study shows that legalizing cannabis can eliminate the need for illegal cannabis farms in federally protected national forests.

The study called “Cannabis legalization by states reduces illegal growing on U.S. national forests” was released online on July 4, and will appear in the October 2019 issue of Ecological Economics. “Using data on the number of cannabis grow sites reported on 111 national forests between 2004 and 2016 together with information about state cannabis laws and when they were implemented, we find that recreational cannabis legalization is associated with decreased reports of illegal grow operations on national forests,” the study’s abstract explains. “Laws mandating minimum sentences for illegal cannabis possession or sales are associated with fewer reported grows, as is strict regulation of cannabinoid products. Taxes on sales have positive impacts on illegal growing, while law enforcement presence has a negative effect. Counterfactual simulations for 2016 quantify the magnitudes of these policy effects.”

In areas that do not have legal cannabis, the penalties for growing cannabis are more strict than those for illegal sales or consumption. Instead of growing cannabis on their own property, many cannabis farmers choose to go out to remote forest locations, such as national forests, to grow their crops. Cannabis cultivation in national forest areas can lead to damage via clearcutting, the use of pesticides, terracing and poaching.

Researchers examined possible ways to keep illegal cannabis cultivation out of national forest areas, such as increasing police presence. However, researchers determined that legalizing cannabis is ultimately the best way to deter illegal cultivation. “Arguably, our models hint that outright, national recreational cannabis legalization would be one means by which illegal grows on national forests could be made to disappear,” the study explained.

This is just one reason of many regarding how legalizing cannabis can have a positive impact on society, the environment and the way cannabis is regulated.

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