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A Double Edged Sword: Is Cannabis Cultivation Helping or Destroying our Planet?

October 21, 2020 11:49 am ET
A Double Edged Sword: Is Cannabis Cultivation Helping or Destroying our Planet?

Global warming has been taking its toll on the planet for quite some time now, such as melting away Antarctica, devastating wildfires, and devastating the ecosystems. All of which has caused many to wonder what we can do to improve our current situation and prevent further damage. Some have offered up solutions for cannabis farming to reduce carbon footprints, while others (such as Euronews) are claiming that cannabis farming could be destroying our planet. Such conflicting claims could make one confused and uncertain of which way to go. Is it possible that both sides have supported claims and if so, how can we adjust our cannabis farming for the benefit of our planet and its inhabitants?

Euronews Thinks Cannabis is Bad For Our Planet

Last month, Euronews took to answering the question of whether growing (farming) cannabis is good or bad for the environment. While their title “How Weed Farming is Destroying the Planet” already suggests that their answer to the question is that cannabis is “bad” for the environment… It is not quite as easy to answer as they let off. 

They began by explaining that there has been little discussion around Britain’s carbon footprint in relation to the nation’s cannabis production, highlighting the fact that the United Kingdom is the largest producer and exporter of medical cannabis in the world. Euronews then took to explaining the three most common methods of growing cannabis (indoors, greenhouse, and outdoors), concluding that the (1) electricity used to give light to the plants as well as (2) the water used to keep the plants alive is contributing to carbon emissions. While those are valid points, I wonder if the plant’s contribution to carbon emissions is more or less than the amount of carbon it reduces.  

All in all, I have to say that Euronews offered up weak evidence for such a bold title, with statements such as “industrial farming for cannabis is bad for the environment. The land can’t take it anymore”, without explaining more than the resource consumption (lights and water) contributing to carbon emissions. However, it does make sense that increased indoor cannabis farming is taking place due to the fact that cannabis remains illegal in many parts of the UK. 

Euronews also spoke with Dominic Corva, the co-director of the Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research (HIIMR), who stated that,

“Legalization that is coupled with environmental policy has the potential to be good for the environment… I’ve seen enormous warehouses full of cannabis being grown at a scale that shouldn’t be happening, I have seen de-watering, especially in drought conditions, where major rivers run dry months before they’re supposed to. Many of my colleagues have seen the use of banned pesticides and rodenticides on public lands”. 

While HIIMR staff highlight issues that few of us knew of such as the drying up of rivers months before they should have, they didn’t offer up any evidence, research, or studies to display that all those terrible environmental situations are caused by cannabis farming. 

While I stand by my stance that Euronews didn’t offer up enough evidence to make such a harsh claim against cannabis, I do believe that worldwide reduction in water use and wastage is of the utmost importance alongside reducing electricity use and carbon footprints. The fact that cannabis farming contributes to carbon emissions is still reason enough to look at regulating its carbon footprint to reduce it. 

Planet Destroying or Carbon Reducing?

In today’s times, objective cannabis education is of the utmost importance as to avoid misleading the public, especially on a subject matter that is already so controversial due to all the hearsay, anecdotal evidence, and research claims. In light of Euronews’s bold claim, let’s explore cannabis farming in terms of contributing to carbon emissions and in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

How Cannabis May Be Destructive

How Cannabis May Be Restorative

When growing cannabis using lights and watering systems, there comes a lot of electricity usage. Since electricity is largely generated by fossil fuels, one can see why cannabis farming contributes to carbon emissions. Additionally, the world is cutting down the forests, which makes the uptake of carbon emissions by our forestry less than ever before.  Cannabis can absorb more carbon dioxide per hectare than any forest or commercial crop due to its ability to act as a carbon sink. Which means that it can absorb more carbon than it releases. Although, this does not account for the release of carbon from the use of non-renewable energy as well as water use.
Large scale outdoor/greenhouse growing operations could mean that the organized needs to clear the land, meaning the removal of existing plant life necessary for carbon reduction. However, this is not exclusive to cannabis farming.  By acting as a carbon sink, cannabis plants accelerate carbon sequestration in the soil of the land that would have otherwise released increased carbon. This means that it can also encourage biodiversity in the soil of degenerated land.     
Farming with harmful pesticides and chemicals is killing local animals and insects. Again, this is not exclusive to cannabis farming.  Unlike other plants, cannabis can be grown on existing farmland, even if it has compacted soil. Although people prefer to prepare the land for cannabis, it isn’t necessary to do so. After all, cannabis plants are very resilient. 
Cannabis plants often require a lot more water than other plants. This means that water usage is substantial when it’s already becoming a scarce commodity. Cannabis is the only plant that has the ability to produce sufficient quantities of atmosphere aerosol monoterpenes in the time we have left to replace the solar-protective stratospheric aerosols. The plants also produce complete nutrition and sustainable biofuels.
There is an increasing amount of research available that assesses the environmental impact of cannabis farming, most of which find that the current cannabis farming operations are destructive, but the same can also be said for other large scale farming operations.  When done correctly, cannabis can be used as an agronomic tool to reduce erosion by wind and water. 

Conclusion? Cannabis farming is and will continue to contribute to carbon emissions AND it can be used to reduce global warming before the planet gets to the point of no return. 

So…What Now? We Address the Problems

Many of the points made in favor of cannabis being destructive to our planet are not exclusive to farming cannabis. Instead of stating that cannabis farming is destroying our planet, we should be looking at how farming operations as a whole are contributing to the destruction of our planet, especially since there are means of reducing carbon footprints while farming as well as using cannabis to reduce, and possibly reverse the carbon footprints. 

What exactly are the problems?

  • The illegalization and criminalization of cannabis have led to numerous indoor operations making use of non-renewable sources of energy and draining the use of water supply. 
  • Harmful pesticides and chemicals which kill animals and insects which are vital to the ecosystem such as grasshoppers and bees. 
  • Insufficient regulations or/and policies managing land-use and preventing deforestation. 

As countries see to the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis and cannabis farming, they should establish accompanying policies looking out for the best interest of the planet. For example, replacing the use of diesel generators and electricity with renewable sources of energy through the use of, for example, solar panels or wind turbines. Parliaments and governments should also consider land-use policies, preventing the deforestation of areas for commercial and large-scale growing operations. Additionally, cannabis farmers can replace the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals with eco-friendly alternatives as well as deciding to supply the plants with less water, since they can survive with less.  As you can see, some measures that can be taken to make the cannabis farming industry greener can also be applicable to many other farming operations. 

The biggest threat of cannabis farming to the environment is indoor operations.  Jennifer Carah, a senior freshwater ecologist at the Nature Conservancy in California stated that,

“one misperception that folks have is that growing cannabis indoors means they get off without a hitch in regards to the environment” and “that’s not really the case”. 

Industry professionals hypothesize that governments can change this by making it legal and then introducing policies to regulate future growing operations. Legalizing cannabis will also take away the need for many indoor growing operations, which have become popular under cannabis’s illegal status. Although this is not as easily done as said. 

As someone that is passionate about cannabis, it breaks my heart to see newspapers and bloggers using cannabis in the same sentence as destroying the planet. Of all the things on this planet, cannabis is our ‘most likely to succeed’ solution for SAVING the planet from global warming. Cannabis farming as it is today can be devastating to the environment but it can also be regulated and organized to do otherwise. Many may agree that cannabis farming is more effective for reducing carbon footprint, while others may not. Either way, we would like to know what your thoughts are in the comment section below.  

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