No Federal Irrigation Water for Marijuana Growers

Though the Department of Justice has been sticking by its promise to stand down when it comes to legalized marijuana, its sister agencies have been dragging their feet. The newest cannabis foe to line up beside the IRS and the Department of Treasury? The Bureau of Reclamation.

While some of you have probably never heard of the Bureau of Reclamation, it is very relevant if you are in agriculture. The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency “under the Department of Interior, which oversees water resource management, particularly as it applies to the oversight and operation of the diversion, delivery, and storage projects that it has built throughout the western U.S. for irrigation, water supply, and hydroelectric power generation.” Wikipedia tells us that the Bureau “is the largest wholesaler of water in the country, bringing water to more than 31 million people, and providing one in five Western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland, which produce 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts. [The Bureau] is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States.”

So, what’s the Bureau’s beef with marijuana? Because marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, it is considering prohibiting Federal water to be used for any marijuana cultivation, including in Washington and Colorado where even recreational cannabis is legal. The Huffington Post reports that after several Washington and Colorado water districts sought clarification from the Bureau, it responded by saying that it is “evaluating how the Controlled Substances Act applies in the context of Reclamation project water being used to facilitate marijuana-related activities.’” According to HuffPost, local water districts in Washington and Colorado contract with Federal water projects for supplies, and officials from some of those water districts are convinced that the Feds are going to turn off the spigots for marijuana growers. I was interviewed by King 5 this week on the topic–for more details on local effects, check out that video here.

If the Bureau opts to exclude marijuana growers from accessing Federal water, the effects could be detrimental. Washington allows for outdoor growing and the Bureau of Reclamation controls the water supply of about two-thirds of Washington’s irrigated land. That’s not an insignificant amount and, surely, our State’s outdoor cultivators will be affected.

Once again, marijuana businesses are faced with a Federal administration that is all over the map on how it is going to deal with marijuana. The inconsistent policies from an indifferent Federal government are stymieing the progress Washington and Colorado have already made. The bottom line? As always, be prepared to expect these inconsistencies from the Feds as we all chip away at prohibition one day at a time.