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Could Cannabis Legalization Help Fight Climate Change?

October 30, 2020 12:17 pm ET
Could Cannabis Legalization Help Fight Climate Change?

What could the cannabis industry do to help reduce the effects of climate change?  This is a question that many within the community, culture, and industry have asked themselves, and for a great reason. There are many ways that the cannabis sector can mitigate the effects of climate change, and it starts with setting an example for others.

Cannabis is a burgeoning market, but unfortunately, its illegality has resulted in detrimental damage to the environment. Through legalization, however, there are many ways that cannabis businesses can genuinely start to impact climate change and reduce our footprint on the environment.

Let’s Start by Stopping Fossil Fuel Powered Illicit Cultivation

Illegal cannabis grows often must remain off-grid, thus meaning no use of standard electricity. This leads many growers to utilize gas-powered generators. According to this study, the associated use of fuels to cultivate cannabis “is valued at $6 billion annually, with associated emissions of 15 million metric tons of CO2 — equivalent to that of 3 million average American cars” annually. Through the legalization of cannabis, illegal growers that tend to steer clear of electrically powered setups can move into the light and drastically reduce the emissions brought forth by utilizing fossil fuel-powered energy sources.

Product Packaging Puts Pressure on the Environment

While many manufacturers are focused on what they are putting inside of their packaging, many do not realize the impact their packaging is having on the environment. Stories of excessive packaging have plagued the cannabis sector. For example, in Canada, where cannabis has now been legal for adult retail consumption and purchase for two years, many cannabis purchases are made through the mail, unlike here in the United States. So not only does the product have the packaging, but it also must go inside additional packaging to be shipped. Some patients have reported ordering a single gram of concentrates and receiving a package that contained a box that inside was filled with excess material to prevent shifting during transport and yet another box that contained the product inside of a jar.

The sad part, every container from the mailing package to the jar that the product was stored ultimately has a negative impact on the environment. This is not only true in their production but also long after their use has been deemed complete as they take decades to decompose. Packaging made of cardboard and paper from trees only adds to the detrimental negative impact that we are having on our planet. By utilizing the same plant we advocate for as the source for packaging material, we could not only help reduce the impact of the industry on the environment but also set an example for other sectors to do the same. Everything that trees can do, hemp can do, and it can do it faster and with a positive impact on the environment.

Water is the Flow of Life but Be Careful Not to Drown

While our bodies and our planet are primarily water, it is one resource that all things need, including cannabis plants. The Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council, along with the Emerald Growers Association, determined that a good standard for measuring water usage in cannabis cultivation is that 1 gallon of water is provided per day per each pound of processed flower expected to be yielded from the plant. They came to this determination after polling a large number of cannabis cultivators regarding their watering practices. When utilizing this ratio, it equals roughly 1.8 gals of water per 1/8th of usable dried cannabis. That is equal to 230 gallons of water per pound of usable dried cannabis.

The California Department of Finance predicted that Californians would purchase approximately 1 million pounds of cannabis in the first full year of adult retail sales. With the numbers above in consideration, that would equal the need for roughly 230,000,000 gallons of water to supply just the retail market in one state.

Compared to other water-dependent crops grown in California, cannabis rests right in the middle using much less water per acre to grow in contrast to Alfalfa, tree fruits, potatoes, and corn. However, it uses much more than the grapes required to keep the California wine industry in full bloom and cucumbers and melons, which are also widely grown in the area.  Check out the California Department of Water Resources “High Time for Conservation: Adding the Environment to the Debate on Marijuana Liberalization” here to learn more.

Doing Our Part to Reduce Water Dependency

With the World Health Organization estimating that more than 785 million people lack access to clean drinking water, it seems quite excessive that we utilize such precious resources to a plant that can grow with much less.

Thankfully, many licensed cultivators are imploring techniques such as automated fertigation and sensor-controlled irrigation to reduce water consumption and prevent waste. Others ensure that not a drop is wasted by reclaiming condensation, dehumidifying the grow space and utilizing the reclaimed water, and recirculating irrigation water for future use. All of these techniques, along with many others that are being investigated, could drastically reduce the industry’s dependency upon these precious natural resources.

Growing Outdoors Can Fight Climate Change

While some methods of cultivation take much more, and others take much less, the optimal sweet spot for water consumption with cannabis seems to be found with outdoor grows. With legalization comes the ability for many licensed cultivators to grow their cannabis in outdoor environments. This reduces the dependency upon existing water sources as plants will receive water through rain, dew, and other natural sources. Growing outdoors also drastically reduces the dependence upon electricity, which is still widely produced by burning precious fossil fuels. Thankfully, the technology powering the lights, fans, and other aspects of cultivation has drastically advanced in recent years, leading to lower electricity usage. The research to reduce dependency further is ongoing.

How do you take the environment into consideration when you grow? Let us know in the comments below!

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