Land Use

Cannabis farms leave lasting imprints. We measure impacts.


Cannabis agriculture influences a region's resources, economy and communities for generations. Using maps and satellite images, we can measure deforestation, habitat vulnerabilities, and wildfire risk. By analyzing trends, we connect land use policies to the health of forests, habitats and communities.

What we’ve learned

  • Cannabis farms in California’s Emerald Triangle tend to cluster in ecologically sensitive areas near unpaved access roads, steep slopes, and aquatic habitat.
    Butsic et al. 2017Butsic and Brenner 2016
  • Rapid expansion of small cannabis farms has led to fragmented habitat in biodiverse forests of southern Oregon. Our results suggest impacts on mammals, fish, and other wildlife.
    Parker-Shames et al. 2021
  • The area of cannabis cultivation nearly doubled during a period of rapid regulatory change from 2012-2016. Sites near high-quality salmon habitat, far from paved roads and on steep slopes, also increased.
    Butsic et al. 2018
  • A small number of large cannabis farms comprise the majority of permitted cultivation area in California. These larger farms tend to be newer and sited in areas more favorable to meeting environmental regulations. In Humboldt County, farm size increased despite policies to encourage small farms.
    Dillis et al. 2021Schwab et al. 2019
  • Cannabis farms are more likely to be located in high to very high fire hazard severity zones than any other type of agriculture in California.
    Dillis et al. 2022
  • Land use policies control who grows cannabis where and how, especially at the local and county scale.
    Polson 2015

Science and Policy Briefs

Cannabis Agriculture 101

Is cannabis legal to grow and sell? How is it grown? How widespread are farms and facilities? Explore the facts of California cannabis agriculture and regulation.

Cannabis Agriculture and Wildlife

Explore how cannabis cultivation can threaten wildlife, what growing practices can reduce impacts near sensitive habitat, and what we still need to learn.


Related Publications


Dillis, C., Petersen-Rockney, M., Polson, M.

Journal of Environmental Management

Two photographs of cannabis. On the left, a densely planted field where budding live plants are covered by a green plastic mesh. On the right, an indoor storage space with bagged cannabis flower.


Polson, M., Bodwitch, H., Corva, D., Getz, C., Laudati, A., Petersen-Rockney, M., Runsten, D., Taylor, K.


Polson, M., Bodwitch, H., Biber, E., Butsic, V., Grantham, T.

Land Use Policy


Polson, M., Butsic, V., Dillis, C., de Genova, H., Grantham, T., Herrera, L.R., Hossack, J., Laudati, A., Martin, J.V., Parker-Shames, P., Petersen-Rockney, M., Sorgen, J., Starrs, G.

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