Feds' bizarre marijuana spite: How Big Ag and water shortage are conspiring against stoners

Ever heard of the federal Bureau of Reclamation? After a decision it just made, a bunch of potheads suddenly do

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 27, 2014 4:45PM (EDT)

  (AP/Ted S. Warren)
(AP/Ted S. Warren)

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure."

It's funny how right-wingers always leave out the manure line, isn't it? But that's the real quote.

Unfortunately, unlike the tree of liberty, the marijuana bush of freedom will not be allowed refreshment of any kind if the federal government has its way. The Bureau of Reclamation, the agency that manages federal water distribution from its network of waterways and dams, announced last week that no water under their purview could be used for marijuana cultivation. Yes, a state may have foolishly allowed its deluded population into voting to legalize the growing of a plant but there is no reason the federal government has to agree to water it. And they won't.

One might have assumed that this was in regards to the drought, where all levels of government are having to make choices about where water is to flow. In California, as anyone who's seen "Chinatown" knows, there's been a battle over water for more than a century. And it's heating up again. When President Obama went to the state in February to announce federal aid and emergency deregulation, he quipped, "I'm not going to wade into this. I want to get out alive on Valentine's Day."

And, in a darkly humorous recent episode, Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America and Cliven Bundy's personal militia man, Richard Mack -- who famously bragged about plans to put women in the front of the protest should shooting break out, so the world could see the blood of ladies liberty spilled on TV --  had a colloquy about the water crisis in California. They are apparently under the mistaken impression that the government wasn't pushing every bit of available water to the San Joaquin Valley to support Big Agriculture:

Pratt and Mack also proposed a solution to the drought in California. Sheriffs should force utilities to divert water to farmers in arid regions in the state, they said.

“You mentioned mining and logging,” Mack remarked. “The other one was actual farming, where the federal government has turned off the water to the San Joaquin Valley in California, where we get 50 percent of our fruits, vegetables, and nuts for this entire country.”

“You know, we need a sheriff there that is just going to walk into the water facility and turn it back on,” Pratt replied.

But Mack said one sheriff wasn’t enough. He suggested 25 sheriffs were needed.

“Take 25 California sheriffs, walk up to that facility, and say, ‘Guess what boys, we got a court order. Turn on the water, and if you don’t, we will,’” Mack explained. “That is exactly what it is going to take.”

Apparently, they are under the impression that there is no drought and the Feds are hoarding water. For undeserving welfare queens, no doubt. So they can wash their Cadillacs.

The drought is, in fact, very severe. Federal, state and local governments are going to have to make some very difficult choices about where to send the water that's available. Food prices will likely go up along with the average water bill. Nobody's going to be playing in their sprinklers this summer even though much of the west is going to be on fire.

But none of those are the reasons the Bureau of Reclamation took the action it took. They aren't just making a common sense priority of food and drinking water over marijuana cultivation in an epic drought. (The case could easily be made that water for alcohol and tobacco should be withheld before a substance that's used for medical purposes, but we'll leave that aside.) One suspects that people would understand such a decision. No, this is about reefer madness.

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government would acknowledge state laws legalizing marijuana (but would continue to enforce federal laws in eight specific areas, such as sales to minors), he didn't say a word about water. That's likely because he had no idea that the federal government even had a Bureau of Reclamation and if he did, he had no idea that it would require enforcement of the nation's drug laws. It appears the Bureau of Reclamation decided to announce a policy to refuse water in this case even though they could have chosen otherwise, considering the AG's earlier statements.

But then it would not be the first agency to go rogue on this issue. Earlier this month the DEA chief Michelle Leonhardt appeared before congress to declare her support for mandatory minimums -- in direct contravention of the Attorney General's comments on the subject -- and to warn of the "dangers" of marijuana legalization, hinting (without evidence) that the new laws are creating millions of pot addicts. (She was subsequently taken to the woodshed and walked back some of her comments.)

It's bad enough that we have hundreds of thousands of people in jail for possessing or selling a relatively harmless herb. It's even worse that rather than being one nation under God, we must fight in 50 different jurisdictions for a common sense acknowledgement that prohibition has been a disastrous and expensive error. It's equally problematic that the federal government seems to be fighting itself over marijuana.

But then, the drug war is very lucrative for the federal police agencies, so they have a major incentive to oppose the pot liberalization that's happening all over the nation. Until the people of this country demand an end to marijuana prohibition on a federal level (or optimally, an end to the Drug War, which is being folded into the War on Terror) these confusing and contradictory interpretations of law are going to continue.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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California Cliven Bundy Dea Drought Editor's Picks Eric Holder Marijuana Marijuana Legalization Water