Beware of Illicit Marijuana Grown on Tribal Lands

By: Hazel Ocampo | Associate |
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner |


Tribal lands are in danger of becoming the target for illicit marijuana grows, which may expose Tribes to hefty fines. Last year, the state of California experienced a massive growth of marijuana cultivation by illicit operations on public forest and park land.

In response, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 165, authorizing severe civil fines against unauthorized marijuana grows causing damage to land managed by the United States Bureau of Land Management, and other state and federal agencies. The law recognizes that illicit marijuana grows lead to water theft and resource degradation. Last year, illicit marijuana growers diverted 5 million gallons of water from rivers and streams, introduced toxic pesticides, and caused the unauthorized discharge of waste into state waterways.

The new law attempts to curtail the harmful environmental consequences resulting from illicit marijuana grow sites. The law permits fines of up to $40,000 for the illegal dumping of hazardous materials into rivers or streams, and up to $10,000 for the unlawful diversion or obstruction of streams or rivers in connection to illicit marijuana grows. These fines will be assessed by courts and by the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

So what does this have to do with Native American lands? Potential unintended consequences with steep fines looming for illicit cultivation on state public lands, growers will be looking for a new “safe haven” to grow their product. In many instances, they may be looking at tribal lands as that “safe haven,” which can be a significant detriment to an unknowing tribal community. The best defense for tribal governments is awareness, diligence and the creation of their own protective measures so that illicit growers can be efficiently expelled.

Hazel is an Associate on the environmental team at Procopio as well as an active member of Procopio’s Native American Practice Group. Her practice focuses on environmental law, including climate change, clean technology and sustainability. Hazel regularly assists state and federal government agencies on project permitting involving the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). She also represents businesses and individuals on permitting, compliance and enforcement matters under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, Superfund and the Endangered Species Act.

Ted is head of the Native American Law Practice Group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at and 619.515.3277.