The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation provides irrigation water to one out of five farmers in the Western United States. According to Reclamation, the irrigation water it provides is used to produce 60% of our nation’s vegetables and 25% of our fruits and nuts. But Reclamation is now deciding whether to leave one Washington crop high and dry: marijuana.
Washington recently issued licenses that allow licensees to grow marijuana. But the cultivation, possession, use, and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. This tension between state and federal law is forcing Reclamation to analyze whether it can provide irrigation water to contract holders who plan to grow marijuana.
The timing of Reclamation’s decision is important because the irrigation season is rapidly approaching in many parts of Washington and has already arrived in other parts of the state. The Olympian reports that Dan DuBray, a spokesman for Reclamation, recently said that Reclamation will make a decision on this issue by early May, and perhaps as early as this week.
An earlier story from the Tri-City Herald indicated that irrigation district managers who deliver water from Reclamation facilities had already been told by Reclamation officials that Reclamation water could not be used to grow marijuana. However, Reclamation has not yet issued its official position on the issue.
Treatment of marijuana by other federal agencies might provide some indication of how Reclamation will resolve this issue. On August 29, 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance explaining its enforcement priorities related to marijuana. One of those priorities was to prevent the growing of marijuana on public lands. Although that is somewhat different than using water from a federal facility to irrigate marijuana on private property, the 2013 guidance is a reminder that the federal government has not abandoned its enforcement of federal marijuana laws, particularly where federal property is involved.
We plan to keep you posted about Reclamation’s final decision on this issue.
This post was originally authored by my colleague, Kirk Maag.