Discovering illegal marijuana growing activities with Google Earth

A few years ago, we showed you a hidden field of marijuana that was only visible from above. Today’s story from California is similar, but with an interesting twist.
The state’s Department of Fish and Game has been searching for marijuana fields using helicopters and Google Earth, but not for the reasons you think. Because of medical marijuana laws in California (and 18 other states), growing it isn’t necessarily illegal. However, unpermitted fields are popping up all over state, and they’re causing some serious issues with local river levels.

Some appeared to be no different than a small farm, but far too many showed evidence of illegal and unpermitted clearcutting, grading, road building and water diversions. Regardless of their size and other differences, they all use precious water from these impoverished creeks and rivers, some of which now run dry in places. I should add the caveat, of course, that from the air it’s not possible to know for sure what is being grown inside any of these greenouses. Then again, the product being grown is not the issue; nor does it matter whether marijuana is being grown for medical purposes. What’s inside doesn’t change the impacts that are apparent.


We’ve seen similar stories in the past, such as the tax assessor using Google Earth to look for new structures that lack the proper permits, or the city uses it to find unlicensed pools. As the speed of updates and the quality of imagery in Google Earth continue to increase, I suspect we’ll see more and more of these kinds of stories in the future.
(via The Arcata Eye)

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. In case folks would like to see the research article first hand that documents the link between illegal marijuana cultivation on Public and Tribal lands and the poisoning and exposure of a rare carnivore.

  2. The State needs to step in and pass legislation against this sort of activity. Such greedy, ignorant and egotistical people taking what they can get with no regard for the environment or future generations.

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