Feinstein bill increases penalties for growing pot

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill that aims to stop marijuana growers from using federal forests.

The Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking (PLANT) Act, S. 1889, instructs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to increase sentencing to account for the environmental crimes drug traffickers commit on public and trespassed lands.

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“Across our nation, but especially in California, drug traffickers cultivate marijuana with zero regard for the environmental destruction it causes,” Feinstein said when she introduced the bill Friday. “Motivated solely by profits, these criminals illegally divert streams, poison wildlife, pollute watersheds and destroy the natural heritage that we have worked so hard to protect.”

The bill also increase penalties for individuals who use hazardous chemicals, redirect natural water flows or clear cut timber while cultivating illegal drugs on federal lands. 

Feinstein, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said her bill would also direct the Sentencing Commission to increase penalties on drug traffickers who use or possess a firearm while producing illegal drugs on federal or trespassed lands.

“I believe that we cannot allow drug traffickers to destroy our public lands, pollute our waters and kill our wildlife with impunity,” Feinstein said. “It is time that sentencing guidelines take into account the environmental damage that drug traffickers all too often cause.”

Feinstein said that last year 900,000 marijuana plants were eradicated at 471 sites on National Forest Lands, but that was only a fraction. She said as a result, taxpayers are on the hook for the millions of dollars needed to clean up the environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana grows.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is cosponsoring the bill and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) has a companion measure in the House.

Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana, though the states are heavily regulating who can legally grow the product. Those state laws are likely to be challenged in court because the drug is still considered illegal under federal law.