US House Committee Supports Drone-Use to Regulate Illegal Cannabis Grows

As medical and recreational cannabis continues to boom across the United States with few signs of slowing, federal law enforcement is looking into innovative and modern ways to enforce the abundance of new laws and regulations.

Namely, a House committee says it supports federal law enforcement in deploying drones in California for the purpose of finding illicit cannabis grow sites on public lands. However, they say the support is contingent on resolving issues around cybersecurity and domestic production. 

The note regarding drone use appeared in a House Appropriations Committee report filed last week, which came with a spending bill for the Department of the Interior and environmental efforts for the fiscal year 2022. 

Previous reports address the same issue of illicit cannabis cultivation of public lands owned by the federal government, though this language regarding the use of drone technology is new. 

The report says, “The Committee is aware that trespassers illegally grow marijuana on public lands in California. These unlawful activities harmfully impact the public, water, soil, and wildlife. The Committee supports Forest Service efforts to develop tools to detect and eradicate grow sites.”

It continues to say that The Committee also supports the Department of the Interior’s use of drones in conducting statewide remote-sensing surveys of federal public lands to identify grow sites, which would allow for development of cost estimates for reclamation, though they would need to address concerns around cybersecurity, technology and domestic product first.

The report doesn’t expand on those concerns, though the federal government grounded hundreds of outsourced drones last year, partially due to concerns around cybersecurity. 

It’s possible the committee hopes to avoid drone-use to look over state-legal cannabis operations near public land, because some California growing communities, like Humboldt County, border federal lands and could potentially be captured by that technology. 

The language of this report, newly mentioning drones, also focuses on California, whereas the last report mentioned Kentucky as a state where unlawful cannabis-related activities can harmfully impact the public, water, soil and wildlife. The Interior and environment funding legislation is one of the many large-scale bills moving through the House right now containing cannabis-related provisions.

House lawmakers just last week approved spending bills in committee touching on a variety of cannabis-related policy, including immigration eligibility for people using cannabis, benefits for military veterans working in the industry and using hemp and CBD, alongside provisions around banking for cannabis businesses, cannabis use by federal employees and Washington, DC’s ability to legalize recreational cannabis sales. 

The committee also released another report recently urging federal agencies to reconsider policy that would result in the firing of employees who use cannabis legally in accordance with state laws. 

The Prevalence of Drone Use

Drones have already been used in relation to cannabis operations, though typically, it’s been utilized to some extent by farmers, not by federal law enforcement. Specifically, drone technology allows farmers to gather data and perform tasks in relation to their crops. 

Drones have not been widely adapted by cannabis farmers nationwide, though those who have utilized them say they can help control pests and plant diseases, improve crop quality, lower growing costs over time and help the environment. 

Though, the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules also affect farmers using drones in the national airspace, in that they must also maintain a minimum distance from buildings and clouds and can only be flown during daylight hours, alongside numerous weight and speed requirements.

While we will need to await more information on the use of drone technology and cannabis in regard to federal regulation and the personal use of farmers, it’s likely on either side we will continue to see more information and updated regulations regarding the integration of drone technology and cannabis growing around the country.

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