Contrary to popular belief, cannabis culture isn’t just about the consumption and effects of marijuana and its byproducts, but rather about the cultivation, science and environment of the industry. However, many inside the cannabis world still do not realize the environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation and how to bring sustainability into their own stash. Hakuna Supply, in conjunction with DOPE Magazine, researched this subject to bring our readers information on the environmental impacts of cannabis, as well as ways for growers, consumers and advocates to help reduce them.
Let’s bring it back to November 8, 2016, when 4 states passed the recreational use of cannabis, raising the total number of rec states to 8, meaning “20% of the U.S. population lives in a state where it is legal for people aged 21 and over to buy marijuana for recreational use” (Trends eMagazine Feb 2017). This effectively created a new industry in the United States that rivals some of the largest corporations. For example, revenue sales in Colorado have reached almost $1 billion, which is equal to some of the largest farming commodities in the state. As the cannabis industry continues to grow and amass profits, the amount of cannabis grown will increase, as well.
So, what does this have to do with the environment? Let’s first look at cannabis cultivation in general. To create a potent, high-demand product, a grower will require “hot temperatures, intense light, highly fertile soil, and large volumes of water” (Ashworth 2017). These factors can produce excessive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. It has even been estimated by the Marijuana Policy Group that legal & illegal indoor grow operations account for 1% of the average energy usage in the U.S. Additionally, illegal grow operations often generate their power off the grid to avoid raising red flags. To create enough energy to power their lights, these illegal growers rely on generators, which often “produce more than three times the CO2 of facilities powered by the grid” (Ashworth 2017). The potential impacts on air quality is another rising concern. As reported by J. W. Martyny in the “Potential Exposures Associated with Indoor Marijuana Growing Operations,” a sampling carried out in conjunction with law enforcement raids on illicit grow operations have measured concentrations of highly reactive organic compounds. These findings present a pressing issue, as experts predict the consumption and cultivation of cannabis to steadily increase until 2050.
What can we do to help prevent greenhouse gas emissions, and keep cannabis green? To start, the cannabis community will need more scientific research to help evaluate and aid this fledgling industry. Second, relevant regulatory bodies will need to implement findings and regulate current environmental standards. Finally, new companies and interest groups will need to identify opportunities to mitigate environmental impacts. This all sounds nice, but as most of us can’t make this kind of large-scale change happen on our own, we decided to offer some suggestions that we, as growers and consumers, can implement.
As a Cultivator:
- Find more energy efficient lighting
- Determine optimal grown conditions for each state of the growing cycle
- Identify best practices for minimizing water use and irrigation
- Identify best practices for reducing solvent use and for treating waste prior to discharge
- Identify opportunities for reducing emissions
As a Consumer:
- Ask your local dispensaries for responsibly-grown cannabis
- Find and purchase from companies that give back to the environment
- Write to your local governments, asking for more research to be done
This industry is undergoing a historic transition, presenting an opportunity to be identified as a progressive, leading example of best practices and environmental stewardship. Socially responsible businesses should take the leading role, yet it truly comes down to us as individuals and consumers. If the cannabis community can come together and advocate for sustainable cultivation and supply in the industry, it can remain a positive economic leader in the world for many years to come.