The plan got its official kick-off with the 1992 report titled “Illicit narcotics cultivation and processing: the ignored environmental drama.” The White House Bureau of International Narcotics Matters (BINM) authored the report, and in it the BINM bewailed the fact that deforestation was being blamed wrongly on multinational corporations alone:
“One significant contributor to the forest removal and water and soil pollution in these regions… whose impact has gone virtually unnoticed by scientists and journalists, has been the cultivation of illicit narcotic crops – cannabis, coca and opium poppy,” the report baldly asserted.
The BINM claimed that coca, opium and marijuana cultivators were responsible for massive deforestation, flooding, leaching of soil, loss of biodiversity, and introducing chemical pollutants and pesticides into the environment. Marijuana growing culprits of this environmental nightmare, said the BINM, could be found particularly in Colombia and Jamaica, where they would strip forests bare looking for new places to cultivate their favorite plant.
The BINM’s answer to this growing environmental “scourge”? In their report, the BINM called for a massive international disinformation campaign, “with the participation of the United Nations family of organizations, national and international environmental and conservation organizations, and the media… to foster public recognition and global awareness of the dire consequences of the environmental catastrophe caused by illicit narcotics cultivation and production.”
While they lied to the world about the environmental consequences of cannabis and other illicit substances, the BINM’s report advised the creation of a program that would spawn one of the worst unrecognized environmental catastrophes of the decade: aerial fumigation with hundreds of thousands of pounds of poisonous coca, opium and marijuana killing herbicides.
Since 1992, aerial spraying has proven itself any thing but environmentally safe. In South America it has poisoned livestock, wiped out small farms, killed birds and human babies, and purged rivers of life in places like Colombia. The results have included mass protests and at least one lawsuit on behalf of Ecuadorian peasants, some of whom lost children after the sprays.
Behind the masquerade of death, it is no coincidence that multinational corporations stand to profit. According to lawyer Terry Collingsworth, who spearheaded the Ecuadorian lawsuit, the spraying may have been an attempt to drive the Ecuadorians off oil-rich lands so they could be exploited for corporate profit (see Death Spray Legal Defense, CC 43). The sprays and even the act of spraying itself is a multi-million dollar pay-off for corporations like Monsanto, which makes the spray’s principle components, and DynCorp, which contracts with the US military to drop it on farms.
The lies spread
Although in 1992 the White House had encouraged anti-druggies to blame environmental problems on cannabis and other illegal plants, major environmental groups were too wise to take the bait. Fumigation atrocities have led environmental groups like the Sierra Club to denounce the US drug war in South America for causing “catastrophic human rights violations” and “widespread environmental destruction.” In this one respect, the White House’s plan failed, but the disinfor mation continued regardless.
Anti-druggies’ main complaint about illegal crops was that they caused deforestation. Special mention was made of cannabis cultivators in Columbia and Jamaica. Despite the fact that many of these cultivators are too poor to afford commercial grow products, they were also blamed for using expensive pesticides. The anti-drug media machine claimed these pesticides were bad for the environment and for human health, although these same products are used on food crops throughout the US.
A massive fire blazed in Northern Mexico and the Southern United States. Texan officials were quick to blame marijuana cultivators, although the fires were widely known to have been caused by Mexican farmers clearing land for various other, legal crops.1 Of course, in 2002, when a US National Guard helicopter searching for marijuana plants crashed and caused a 61,550 acre fire that destroyed 106 buildings and 35 homes, nobody railed against the environmental destruction caused by the drug war.2
The Peruvian government published an informative leaflet that claimed an exaggerated 25% of its deforestation was caused by the “cocaine culture,” which basically implicated ever y peasant farmer in the nation, for whom cocaine leaf plays an important social, religious and economic role.3 Disingenuously, the Peruvian government ignored the corollary: that 75% of the remaining deforestation must have been due to corporate activities like logging and mining.
Colombian Environment Minister Cecilia Rodriquez took deforestation blamegame to the next level. He told the BBC that cocaine users around the world should be ashamed for creating an economy that fueled deforestation in his country.
“I should call the attention to all consumers of cocaine that they are dramatically harming the tropical rainforest of the world, because this is what the world needs for its oxygen,” he complained, conspicuously avoiding reference to his country’s leading industries, which include logging.4
According to American University’s Trade and Environment database, 1.5 to 2.2 million acres of Colombian forest are cut down each year and only 4.5 to 6.6 percent of that is cut for marijuana, opium and cocaine production combined. Corporations cut down most of the remainder in an attempt to compete in the international lumber market.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (ODC) pointed the finger at marijuana growing in Morocco which, it said, posed an immediate, emergency-level danger to the country’s ecosystem because of deforestation coupled with the widespread use of fertilizers. Of course, the ODC failed to mention the fact that fertilizers from legal agricultural practices are one of the leading causes of pollution in rivers and streams around the world and are considered by some biologists to be a problem on par with global warming.5 Fertilizer pollution caused by drug crops is miniscule by comparison.
In 2004, the CIA published a document on their website titled “Narcotics: damage to the environment” that sought to blame everything from deforestation to global warming on drugs. It is nice to know that the world’s largest, best funded and most highly trained intelligence agency is concerned about our environment, but like the ODC missed reference to any of the leading causes of environmental degradation ? the worst of which are industrial and originate with US’s largest corporations, whose next favorite hobby is funding political campaigns.
Challenging the lies
Regardless of the shenanigans and lies, we are still left with the question: Does the cultivation of illegal substances cause any significant environmental problems? The truth is, it prevents them.
In Morocco, for example, where the government tolerates cannabis growing because there’s no other way for people to feed their families, a 2003 US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) bewails the supposedly detrimental environmental ef fects of cannabis cultivation and advises replacing it with legal crops. Yet according to the INCSR, Moroccan cannabis is worth a minimum of $16,400 per acre and the legal alternative, corn, is worth $1,000 an acre, which means that farmers would have to deforest and cultivate more than 16 times as much land to make the same money from corn as they do from cannabis.
Since according to the INCSR Morocco grew about 134,000 hectares of pot in 2003, they would be required to cut another 2,063,600 hectares under the INCSR’s plan. Fertilizer pollution in streams and lakes would also increase substantially. Even if Moroccan farmers insanely followed the INCSR’s advice and two million hectares were cut for cornfields, the sudden influx of product ? grown without market demand ? would flatten the crop’s price and it would rot in the fields. That’s why smaller scale attempts at crop replacement in places like Bolivia have lead to massive farmer protests and a return to wide-scale coca production in the past.
Meanwhile, in places like Colombia that see heavy eradication efforts, the drug war has fueled an ever-accelerating race toward total deforestation. A March, 2000 Transnational Institute publication titled “The Vicious Circle” estimated that 230,000 hectares had been sprayed during the 90’s, and according to the latest figures provided by the US government more than 365,000 hectares have been sprayed since 2000.6 Astutely, the Colombian human rights ombudsperson’s office, Defensoria del Pueblo, warned that “every hectare fumigated means a hectare substituted”7 as ? to this day ? farmers dig deeper into the jungle to hide new coca, opium and marijuana fields in more difficult to reach areas.
The net result? Fumigation of illicit drug crops is nothing more than a make-work project with disastrous consequences. In the last 15 years, farmers would have had to deforest at least 595,000 hectares to replace their fumigated coca, opium and marijuana plantations ? that’s 2,297 square miles. Colombia is but one country, and this is but a fraction of the drug war’s true environmental toll.
If the growers of euphoriant plants were left to cultivate in peace, hundreds of thousands of square miles would still be forested, and much more could be saved in the future. On another level, it only makes sense that consciousness expansion and sensitivity to environmental issues should go hand in hand.
When we tune in to our higher natures, we tune in to nature at her highest.
For thousands of years, authorities have blamed scarce crops, famines and environmental degradation on races, cultures and groups that they hoped to utterly genocide.
The claims seem preposterous to thinking people. In 2003, for example, the CIA claimed “drugs hurt not only you, but also the environment… Soil, for example, may become so polluted that it will be years before other crops can be grown.”
In his 1924 work, Mein Kampf, Hitler made similar claims about the Jews, claiming they lacked the intellectual ability to fertilize soil.
“The Aryan is enabled only by his technology, developed in the course of more than a thousand years, to live in regular settlements, to master broad stretches of soil and obtain from it the requirements of life,” wrote Hitler. “The Jew [doesn’t have a] definite attitude toward the concept of work which could [likewise]serve as a basis for his later development in so far as the necessary intellectual premises were present.”
The implication was that Jews ate more than their rightful share of food, they were a “parasite in the bodies of other peoples,” and should be exterminated.
Similarly, during the Inquisition, witches were blamed for causing foul weather that destroyed crops. Influential witch-hating French language poet Martin Le France provided an example of this once prevalent belief in his 1440 work “Defender of Ladies,” in which he wrote:
“…That wicked beast of a woman created whirlwinds and raised storms that destroyed both grain and vine, leveled trees and bushes, wasting entire lands… witches have flung these elements wherever they wished and done many other wicked things by the power of the devils.”
More remarkable and scary than the claims themselves is that people have always fallen for them, fearing that innocent groups might somehow manufacture mass starvation, by poisoning the soil, by intellectual inability, or by pure magic.
1. “Marijuana growers and drug traffickers set fires in Mexico,” by Howard La Franchi. The Christian Science Monitor. May 18, 1998.
2. “Another misfire in drug war.” Lima News (OH). Aug 10, 2002.
3. “El componente ambiental en la lucha contra el narcotrafico y en la promocion del desarrollo alternative.” Embajada de los Estados Unidos de America. October 13, 2001.
4. “Cocaine industry ‘killing rainforest,'” by Tim Hirsch. BBC. October 31, 2002.
5. “Agricultural fertilizer may increase threats of nitrogen pollution,” by Daniel Grossman. Voice of America News. July 10, 2002.
6. From the European NGO Council on Drugs and Development’s newsletter, No 13. December 1998.
7. 2004 National Drug Control Strategy Report.