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  • Where's There's Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana ed. by Char Miller
  • Barney Warf
Where's There's Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana. Edited by Char Miller. Foreword by Jared Juffman. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2018. vii + 226 pp. Illustrations, tables, index. $29.95 cloth.

The drive toward the legalization of marijuana has unleashed a flurry of new literature concerned with its impacts and with the legal debates pertaining to permissible use. This volume, a series of 12 chapters and an afterword, authored by academic ecologists and sociologists, wildlife biologists, and wildlife managers, sheds interesting new light on the politics of legalization as well as understudied dimensions of marijuana cultivation and the illegal trespass of grow operations on federal lands.

As different authors make clear, illegal grow sites were the unintended consequence of the disastrous war on drugs, which encouraged producers to shift cultivation from Mexico to the United States. Northern California's Emerald Triangle emerged as the prime producer in this regard, a locale whose operations were soon duplicated in other parts of the Golden State and then in several others. Most grow sites go undetected.

Thousands of illegal grow sites have enormously deleterious effects on local ecosystems, including the cutting of trees, diversion of streams, and contamination of streams with sediment and fertilizers, widespread garbage, heavy use of pesticides and fungicides, and ro-denticides that have exterminated many small animals and poisoned the ones that prey on them. Hikers and forestry personnel stumbling across such sites are often put in danger. These types of operations now exist in at least 22 states. As noted in chapter 1, "More than forty years of federal intransigence concerning cannabis has forced state regulators and cannabis advocates to pursue a piecemeal approach to legalization and has done very little in the way of bringing growers into regulatory compliance, and even less at protecting the environment. Debate rages as to whether legalization will enhance or depress such operations" (24).

Trespass operations are prefigured by earlier cultural geographies. Thus, in northern California the tradition extends back to hippies in the 1960s; in Appalachia, their roots extend to the tradition of rural moonshine producers, now displaced by Mexican immigrants.

The chapters are engaging. One chapter consists of a hair-raising first-person account of a raid on an illegal grow operation. Others offer remarkably sympathetic views of the workers on grow sites. Essentially all are undocumented aliens, poorly educated, with no knowledge of the law and justice system or the risks, often lured to the work under false pretenses, who are essentially slaves. Mexican cartels may hold their families hostage to force cooperation, and such workers may not testify after being caught, fearing for the safety of their kin back home. Some are charged with all of the crimes committed by the cartel, and many are sentenced to long and harsh prison sentences.

Several chapters address legalization movements in various states. What makes this interesting is how the volume depicts different trajectories toward similar goals, paths shaped by local histories, cultures, and political environments. Medical marijuana inevitably led the way. Typically successful legalization involves multiple failed attempts. California is the behemoth of legal and illegal cultivation, producing more than all the others combined; its move toward legal recreational cannabis opened the door for others such as Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. In Washington, DC, the panopticonic gaze of congressional Republicans has repeatedly attempted to thwart legalization. The aftermath of legalization is also uneven. As chapter 9 notes, "different states have crafted different regulatory regimes and licensing requirements" (143-44). Banking services for distributors are difficult to come by, given that cannabis is still illegal at the federal level.

Taken together, these chapters provide an informative and frequently fascinating glimpse into the complex political, environmental, and regulatory dimensions of cannabis production. The book will be useful for academics, legalization advocates, and anyone interested in the world's most heavily consumed illegal drug. [End Page 89]

Barney Warf
Department of Geography University of Kansas
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Additional Information

ISSN
2334-2463
Print ISSN
1052-5165
Pages
p. 89
Launched on MUSE
2020-04-11
Open Access
No
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