Legalize it. Regulate it. And tax it.
That was a major argument behind the movement to remove marijuana from the banned substances list in many states in recent years. According to the “wisdom” of humankind, making marijuana legal for recreational adult use would solve problems associated with the mind-altering substance.
Fewer people would fill prisons on “minor” charges of possession, supporters said. If legalized, then production could be monitored. That was supposed to limit the opportunity for marijuana to be contaminated with more dangerous drugs. Plus, those lobbying for the status change said that it is within an adult’s freedom of choice to use marijuana. Doing so causes no one else harm, they claimed.
But as is often the case with human decisions, negative consequences that were not predicted are arising. Laws are still being broken, and individuals are experiencing harm in the form of unpredicted fallout.
Jack Dwyer is one of those suffering. In 1972, Dwyer and his family started a small organic farm on an idyllic parcel of land in Oregon. Deer Creek ran through the property. The Dwyers used water from the creek to irrigate their modest plot of crops. They applied for a permit to draw water from that creek.
But now Deer Creek has run dry. Why? Several illegal marijuana farms, called “grows,” cropped up in the neighborhood last spring. As legalization of recreational marijuana and some of its byproducts has grown, so has the demand for it. Opportunists who want to cash in quickly plant without permits—and steal water from streams and aquifers without legal access too.
From dusty towns to forests in the U.S. West, illegal marijuana growers are taking water in uncontrolled amounts when there often isn’t enough to go around for even licensed users like Dwyer.
According to the Cannabis Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley, California today has more illegal cannabis farms than licensed ones. That’s despite the fact that marijuana sales and use were legalized in 2016. In Oregon as well, the number of illegal grows appears to have increased. The impact is worsened due to extremely dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest. This spring was the region’s driest since 1924.
“Because peak water demand for cannabis occurs in the dry season, when streamflow is at its lowest levels, even small diversions can dry streams and harm aquatic plants and animals,” a study from the research center says. Food production also suffers.
Sheriff Dave Daniel of Josephine County, Oregon, says that hundreds of illegal grows in his county are funded by overseas investors. He believes the financiers expect to lose a few grows as they are discovered. But the sheer number of them means that many will last until the marijuana is harvested and sold on the black market outside Oregon.
Daniel and his deputies found and destroyed an illegal grow that had 200,000 plants. The illicit farm was drawing water from Deer Creek using pumps and pipes. Daniel called it “one of the most blatant and ugly things I’ve ever seen.”
“They had actually dug holes into the ground so deep that Deer Creek had dried up . . . and they were down into the water table,” the sheriff says.
The Deer Creek streambed is now an avenue of rocks bordered by brush and trees.
“I just don’t know what I will do if I don’t have water,” Dwyer, a 75-year-old retired middle school teacher, says as he watches his means of watering his crops disappear.
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” asks Isaiah 55:2. Every person is made by God with an inherent longing for something only our Creator and Savior Himself can fill. Outside of Christ, people will seek to fill that empty space with all manner of things to soothe and hide the feeling of need. For some, it’s alcohol or substances like marijuana. Others may overuse food, entertainment, or social media or seek wealth—even outside of legal boundaries and too often to the detriment of others.
Even believers will at times experience loneliness, emptiness, pain—all examples of the “cast down soul” of the Psalms. But rather than fill it with a worldly offering that will never satisfy, the Christian is encouraged to “wait in silence” for “God alone.” All our hope is in Him. (Psalm 62:5)
(Jack Dwyer stands in the dry bed of Deer Creek in Selma, Oregon, on September 2, 2021. Dwyer’s organic farm is threatened by illegal marijuana grows that steal water from the stream and underground aquifers. Carol Valentine via AP)