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Marijuana growers started California wildfires

Serious bummer, dude. California's totally ablaze, and the cops are laying the blame on marijuana growers.

That's right. Investigators with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Narcotics Unit have confirmed that the camp at the origin of the La Brea fire was an illegal marijuana operation believed to be run by a Mexican drug organization. The suspects are currently on the lam and thought to be hiding out in the San Rafael wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service said in a prepared statement.

The La Brea fire first flared up east of Santa Maria, Calif., on Aug. 8 and has since burned 75,000 acres of chaparral, grass and timber. Last week, 234 houses were evacuated, but the blaze is now 25 percent contained, reports the Los Angeles Times.

As the U.S. has clamped down on cross-border trafficking, the cultivation of marijuana on public lands, including national parks, has become a serious problem. And while marijuana may be green, growing, harvesting and shipping it are not.

In 2003, Art Gaffrey of the Sequoia National Forest in California testified before Congress that in a five-year period starting in 1997, agents eradicated 3 million marijuana plants, or about 3,000 metric tons, on Forest Service lands. Gaffrey described the camps as being filled with "refuse, feces, fertilizers and poisons" and explained that the marijuana harvest was far from organic. Marijuana growers were also responsible for starting a wildfire in Sequoia in 1999.

Although medical marijuana use is legal in California, legal cultivation is limited to small-scale operations constrained by a patchwork of local laws. Depending on how you look at it, the ecological cost could be one more reason to ramp up the war on drugs—or to encourage decriminalization or legalization, bringing cultivation into the domain of environmental laws.

What do you think?

Image of marijuana plant courtesy Eric Caballero via Flickr

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