So far, the massive movement towards legalization of both recreational and medical cannabis across the country has gone remarkably well. Crime rates and black market activities are down in the four legal states, one legal district, and 23 medical states. And the industry that is emerging from this positive change is astoundingly successful, becoming a business empire in its own right.
But there is one major issue that these new legal states are facing: a huge energy bill. Anyone familiar with the ins and outs of growing cannabis knows it takes a lot of electricity to keep a successful grow going. Cannabis plants need tons of light and heat, which means keeping UV lamps on all the time, as well as regulating temperature, watering, and humidifying the grow room. And of course, indoor growth is the preferred method for most growers, except in places like California that still do some seasonal grows. The soil in a place like Colorado, for example, is not right for growing cannabis, and the winters, falls, and even springs are far too harsh and snowy.
However, this does not have to spell out bad news for the cannabis industry, any more than waning amounts of fossil fuels have to spell out the death of the auto industry. Gina Warren, who teaches at Texas A&M University School of Law, has written a paper entitled “Regulating Pot to Save the Polar Bear: Energy and Climate Impacts of the Marijuana Industry,” which is scheduled to be published in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law.
“Given that this is a new ‘industry’ that is going to be pretty highly regulated, I felt like the state and local policymakers have a unique opportunity to incorporate energy usage and climate assessments into their state marijuana licensing fees,” she told The Washington Post.
A study done by Evan Mills, a researcher who focused on the “carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production” for the Energy Policy journal, agrees with the need to regulate the environmental impact from indoor grows. He stated that, “One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4,600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production. Specific energy uses include high-intensity lighting, dehumidification to remove water vapor and avoid mold formation, space heating or cooling during non-illuminated periods and drying, pre-heating of irrigation water, generation of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuel, and ventilation and air-conditioning to remove waste heat.”
In plain English, current energy practice uses up an insane amount of energy to produce a small amount of marijuana, and all of the different items needed for the cultivation process bring this energy use level up even higher. This is clearly not an acceptable amount of energy use, but luckily, Warren thinks she has the answer, and promises that she is not picking on this new industry; she simply wants to make sure that the new world of legal weed is on the right track.
“I think it could actually be a marketing tool for the industry,” Warren told Washington Post, “because if you have people who are purchasing the product who are the type of individual who cares about the environment, then they would gravitate towards the green marijuana production.” This is a great point; most of those supporting this industry are liberals, and would be even bigger supporters if they knew that their cannabis was being grown in a sustainable manner.
This is all a lot to think about, and while these levels of energy use are shocking, this certainly seems like a good opportunity to promote clean energy use while also supporting this new and ever-growing industry.