Marijuana products have become more ubiquitous in recent years as recreational use and cultivation has been legalized in many states and cities across the country. With increasing access and demand, the question arises: is it sustainable to grow and process marijuana?
Government and marijuana are on shaky ground
For starters, writes “Inhabitat,” the US government’s relationship with marijuana is complicated. As early as 1906, local governments were discussing the use and purchase of cannabis products when Washington, DC declared that a prescription was required for cannabis medicines. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1911 essentially made the purchase of recreational marijuana illegal at the federal level and was not repealed until 1969. Although still illegal at the federal level, states and cities are decriminalizing marijuana slowly, also allowing greater access to medical and recreational marijuana.
Growing cannabis is a legal nightmare with different federal, state, county, and county laws all at play and often at odds with each other. For example, growing marijuana in Florida is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison, but in California an average person can grow up to six marijuana plants as long as they is 21 or older.
These rules often exist to limit the circulation of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, but cultivation laws also affect CBD beauty products and hemp fabric. As a fabric, hemp is an excellent substitute for cotton because it replenishes soil the same way cotton depletes it without regular crop rotation. However, it is not a particularly sustainable crop to grow without thought and upfront costs.
California’s Position on Cannabis
California State and Los Angeles County, in particular, are working to understand the environmental impact of indoor and outdoor grown cannabis as the industry expands. Waste runoff and water consumption are two of the main factors that make outdoor cultivation a problem in the desert state. Indoor cultivation has its own problems, such as the consumption of electricity to simulate sunlight and heat, cool and dehumidify rooms. However, there are solutions.
Beginning in February 2022, California launched the Sustainable California Grown Cannabis Pilot Program (SCGC Pilot Program). It is currently ongoing as it is a three-year grant where program participants can help the state decide what are the best management practices for regulating and growing marijuana. The $7.5 million allocated for this program was not allocated to private companies, but to non-profit organizations, public and private universities, public agencies and tribal governments. This program is not yet complete and cannot provide clear results, but it is a program worth considering.
What growers are doing to be more sustainable
Some growers have started doing what they can to make their business sustainable. For every 100 grams of water used at THC Design, for example, only 33 grams is actually new water from the city. This is a recycling rate of 67%. Gold Flora implemented an expensive HVAC system that saved them money and protected the planet from pollution by reducing the emissions used to cool their grow spaces. Ball Family Farms has moved away from hydroponics in favor of living soil that they manage to process and reuse with the help of wiggling earthworms. Companies are doing what they can to improve their lucrative industry.
Municipalities should be more concerned about illegal cultivation and improper operations, which are more likely to waste energy and create water and air pollution. Illegal grow operations, even in cities and states where cultivation is legal, are not subject to the same environmental regulations as registered growers. This can mean the use of synthetic pesticides and the contamination of water supplies and public lands. They are also unable to enroll in government-established energy-saving programs, thereby emitting more greenhouse gases than would be necessary if they were legal, registered operations.
Cannabis is much more than you think
As growers and dispensaries experiment with growing conditions, energy-saving practices, and minimizing waste, buyers can also pay attention to certain aspects to buy better cannabis products. In general, growing cannabis outdoors reduces CO2 emissions because it greatly reduces or eliminates the use of electricity in the growing process. Certain characteristics help you identify grass grown indoors and outdoors, but they differ depending on the variety. If in doubt, check with your dispensary. Products packaged with recycled or hemp plastic, paper or glass are often better for the environment, and those with a Certificate of Analysis (COA) or test results will help you know you’re not consuming any products containing heavy metals, mold or any other contaminants.
In short, “it’s complicated. The cannabis industry is slowing down, but demand continues. Like fashion and food, producers must consider their impact on the planet, and there are solutions. With a variety of legal hurdles, research continues to be conducted by governments, universities, and organizations around the world to better understand the impact of practices on the sustainability of marijuana. In the meantime, do your own research to find out who grows your cannabis, CBD and hemp products,” Inhabitat concludes.