U.S. Blocks Legal Marijuana Growers From Using Federal Irrigation Water

Feds will not allow government water to be used for the growing of a Schedule I controlled substance.

Cannabis farms cannot take advantage of water from federal irrigation projects, the U.S. Interior Department announced. The announcement is a major setback for growers in the states of Washington and Colorado, where both recreational and medical marijuana is legal.

The Bureau of Reclamation, the branch of the Interior Department that maintains dams, power plants, and canals in 17 western states, reaffirmed that the growers cannot use water supplied through the federal system. The bureau helps provided irrigation water to about 1.2 million acres of land in Colorado and Washington.

"As a federal agency, Reclamation is obligated to adhere to federal law in the conduct of its responsibilities to the American people," Dan DuBray, the bureau's chief of public affairs told NBC News.

The Bureau said it would refer any violations to the Justice Department.

"We're not an investigative agency. We're an agency that provides water to irrigation districts," said DuBray. "The limit of our proactive stance is that if asked, we're not approving it, and if we become aware of it, we report it."

Dubray says that the decision is temporary because a permanent policy decisions must go through a lengthy process of review that would include public hearings.

Parts of both Colorado and Washington are feeling the effects of a long-term drought, making irrigated water a valuable commodity. And while the drought in western Colorado is 14 years long, the impact may be more severe in Washington, where the federal government supplies water to about two-thirds of the state's farmland.

Despite the successful legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act passed by the Congress in 1970. A schedule I drug is defined by the federal government as dangerous substance that has no recognized medical use and that has a high potential for abuse. In addition to marijuana, heroin, LSD and ecstasy are schedule I substances.

Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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