Is ‘Weed’ Bad for the Environment?

Written by on January 9, 2014 in Entrepreneurship, Green, Non-Profit - No comments

800px-Cannabis_Clones_in_BoxOne of the New Year headlines has been that Colorado has made history by becoming the first to allow retail stores to sell cannabis. As many as 30 stores around the state have started to sell the drug for recreational purposes from 1 January 2014. Colorado and Washington are among 20 states to have approved marijuana use for medical purposes, although the drug is still illegal under federal law. Globally, the debate about legalising marijuana is always a heated one, with opposing views. There is also a big environmental concern.

Cultivating marijuana indoors, as most cannabis is grown these days, provides the grower with many benefits; notably, they don’t have to worry about losing crops due to unexpected weather or animals. Plus, it allows for the creation of perfect growing conditions all year round and a high-grade product. Yet growing this crop indoors is not so beneficial for the environment.

Growing cannabis indoors is estimated to be responsible for one per cent of all electricity use in the U.S. – a $5 billion yearly energy bill. California is the top-producing state—one of 17 states to allow cultivation for medical purposes—and where indoor cannabis production is responsible for about three per cent of all electricity used in the state. A single industrial grow light uses about the same amount of electricity as 28 refrigerators. Due to higher electricity prices and cleaner fuels used to make electricity, California incurs 70 per cent of national energy costs, but only 20 per cent of national CO2 emissions. From the perspective of consumers, a single cannabis cigarette represents two pounds of CO2 emissions, an amount equal to running a 100-watt light bulb for 25 hours with U.S. electricity.

The medical marijuana market is set to increase to $8.9 billion in the next five years, so finding a solution for energy efficiency is important. One obvious step would be to move indoor growing operations outdoors, as the energy consumption of outdoor operations is virtually zero. Other moves would be to legalise marijuana production so the industry could follow in the footsteps of the commercial agricultural industry, which has made great strides in energy efficiency in recent years.

Sea Change Radio, a radio station that makes connections on social, environmental and economic transformations toward sustainability, explored this topic when it spoke to Scott Zeramby, a contributor to a recent study that documents the energy consumption associated with indoor cannabis growing. Zeramby discusses the forces responsible for the shift to indoor growing and how the study makes a case to oppose this trend, and instead let the grass grow where it’s greenest — outside.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

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