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Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio Delivers Remarks Announcing Results of Operation Forest Watch, a Public Lands Marijuana Grow Eradication and Reclamation Project


McClellan Park, CA
United States

Good morning, my name is Jesse Panuccio and I currently serve as the Acting Associate Attorney General of the United States.  I am honored to be here today with U.S. Attorney Greg Scott; Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, Jeff Wood; and several other dedicated officials from the Department of Justice.  I am also thankful for the presence and cooperation of our law enforcement partners at the federal, state, and local levels.  Attorney General Becerra, thank you for being here today and for your support of this important effort to protect the public from the harms of illicit marijuana cultivation. 

Attorney General Sessions has directed the Justice Department to enforce the drug laws of the United States and to combat the ills that arise from violation of these laws. That is why we are here today.   

Marijuana cultivation on our nation’s public lands is unlawful. Some people believe increased marijuana cultivation is harmless. It is not. As with other illicit drug activity, it is causing significant harm to communities across the West.  Particularly in states like California, with millions of acres of federal lands and a climate conducive to growing marijuana, illegal marijuana growing operations cause a range of harms, not the least of which is significant damage to the environment—our water, our land, and our wildlife. 

These illegal growing activities are polluting our streams and rivers with banned, toxic pesticides, while also diverting the flow of millions of gallons of scarce water annually from lawful, productive uses. Westerners know the value of clean, fresh water, and it is an outrage that drug traffickers are abusing precious water resources and our natural reserves in this manner. 

As for harm to land, the workforces at these illicit grow sites are leaving behind thousands of pounds of trash and debris, polluting our public spaces and devastating local habitats.

And as for animal life, these illegal marijuana growing activities are harming fish and game.  Deer, bears, elk, and other wildlife are being poached, trapped, or poisoned at these illegal grow sites, while also having to contend with the water and land pollution that is ruining their habitats.   

If left unchallenged, these illegal grow sites risk endangering the health and safety of the American people who otherwise look to our national forests and national parks for recreation and conservation, and who rely on our clean water resources for daily life, economic growth and critical agriculture.  

And the harm from illegal marijuana cultivation doesn’t stop with the environmental calamities. The toxic substances used to grow this marijuana can and do cause harm to law enforcement and users who come into contact with it.  We also know that the profits from this drug trafficking are being used to fund violent organized criminal enterprises.

The American people deserve protection from this illegality, and they deserve law enforcement that will put an end to this  trespass on and misuse of their public lands.  

The Justice Department, including our Environment and Natural Resources Division led by Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood, is providing full support to fighting this illegality, in close cooperation with other federal, state, and local partners.  By joining together to oppose the illegal growth of marijuana on public lands, we are working to enforce the rule of law in our conservation areas and to protect the environment and natural resources upon which we all depend.

U.S. Attorney Scott, thank you for your strong leadership on this important issue.  All of us at the Justice Department stand with you. 

Drug Trafficking
Updated August 28, 2018