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Congressional Lawmakers Support Using Drones To Spot Illegal Marijuana Grows On Public Lands



An influential House committee says it supports federal law enforcement efforts to deploy drones in California to find illicit marijuana grow sites on public lands. However, it said that support is contingent on resolving issues related to cybersecurity and domestic production.

The note about the use of drones to find illegally grown cannabis comes in a House Appropriations Committee report filed last week that’s attached to a spending bill for the Department of the Interior and environmental efforts for fiscal year 2022. As in previous years’ reports, the document addresses the issue of illicit marijuana cultivation on public lands owned by the federal government.

But the language on the use of drone technology to combat illegal growers is new for this year.

“The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California,” the report says. “These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites.”

“The Committee also supports the Department of the Interior’s use of drones to conduct statewide remote-sensing surveys of federal public lands to identify grow sites and allow for the development of cost estimates for reclamation after concerns about cybersecurity, technology, and domestic production have been addressed,” it continues.

The report doesn’t expand on those concerns related to cybersecurity, technology and domestic production, but the federal government did ground hundreds of Chinese-made drones last year, in part due to cybersecurity risks.

With respect to issues over “domestic production,” it’s possible the committee is aiming to avoid having drones used to surveil state-legal marijuana operations that are near public lands, as legal operations in some California growing communities such as Humboldt County border federal lands and could potentially be captured by the technology.

Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

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It’s unclear what steps lawmakers want the department to take to ameliorate their concerns. Marijuana Moment reached out to Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), who chairs the Appropriations Interior & Environment Subcommittee, and Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), who is ranking member on the panel and a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, for clarification, but representatives were not immediately available.

The drone language wasn’t included in previous reports on the spending legislation, but another change for the fiscal year 2022 version is that it focuses on California, whereas the last report mentioned Kentucky as another state where cannabis-related “unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife.”

A related issue that isn’t addressed in the report was previously identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose inspector general said in 2018 that the Forest Service has often failed to clean up illicit grow sites after they finished chopping down plants.

The Interior and environment funding legislation is one of numerous large-scale bills that are moving through the House this year that contain cannabis-related provisions.

For example, the chamber on Thursday approved a transportation bill that includes a provision to allow researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries in order to effectively study impaired driving.

House lawmakers also approved several spending bills in committee on Wednesday that touch on a wide range of cannabis-related policy issues, including immigration eligibility for people who use marijuana, benefits for military veterans who work in the industry and regulations on hemp and CBD. Other bills and reports that were recently approved contain provisions on banking for cannabis businesses, marijuana use by federal employees and the ability of Washington, D.C. to legalize recreational sales.

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