Cannabis has been cultivated for thousands of years, used in both practical applications, such as being a fiber for clothing, a substitute for paper made from wood, and many medicinal purposes. The production of hemp was once required by law to be grown on every farm in Virginia. In 1996 California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, which started the loosening of national restrictions on a large scale. Other states followed in California’s footsteps such as Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. In 2012 Colorado became the first state to legalize marijuana for over 21-year-old users (Geiling, 2015). Now as many as 11 states could vote to legalize marijuana.
Currently the cannabis industry is the most energy-intensive crop, this is because the majority of the cannabis companies grow indoors. According to a 2016 report released by New Frontier Financials, cannabis cultivation annually consumes one percent of the United States’ total electrical output, which for a single industry growing a single crop, is a lot roughly the equivalent of the electricity used by 1.7 million homes. If expansion continues it is stated that the electricity used by indoor grow ops will double in the next 20 years. This mass amounts of legalization places a burden on the environment. Most indoor growers use High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps to grow their product. These lights are relatively cheap, but put off immense amount of heat. This requires these faculties to be air conditioned and dehumidified, to maintain a constant temperature.
This all adds up to expensive electricity bills, one cannabis farmer in Portland Oregon, Eli Bilton, estimates that a 25,000 square foot grow site (which is half of the maximum area allowed by the state of Oregon) would on average have a 30,000 energy bill each month. An alternative to this type of indoor growing would be outdoor growing, which if done improperly can cause quite the environmental degradation. It can lead to degrading soils, and pesticide and fertilizer runoff. It also requires an immense amount of water. The outdoor industry in California alone consumes as much as 430 million liters of water per square kilometer for a single season, which is twice the amount that wine grapes need.
Currently, there is no incentive for theses large scale cannabis growers, to look towards more efficient measures. They can bear the costs of high energy bills and environmental degradation because there has been neither a regulatory nor financial enforcement for them to alter their ways. These growers tend to stick to what they know rather than altering their ways, which could lead to losing their crops. Not all cannabis growers are avoiding switching to alternative forms of cultivation. Some faculties within Oregon area outfitted with gutters that accumulate rain water, which is then filtered into the plants, this method avoids using ground water or Oregon’s runoff. Many clippings are turned into fertilizer and condensation from humidifiers and air condition units is accumulated within recycling systems. There are certifications that certify farms as “organic” one is currently called Clean Green certification. There is also a lack of research and knowledge within this industry.
There are alternatives to the process of growing indoors, which many farmers avoid due to the high yield seen within indoor growing. Greenhouses are a direction that the cannabis industry could focus on in the near future. Harnessing the energy of the sun, which would then mitigate energy costs. Sensors that turn on lights when the cloud cover is present. The main thing that can be done to make the cannabis industry more efficient would be a reduction in the overall price of marijuana. This would make the cost of indoor growing completely unfeasible for growers. Alternative lighting systems such as LEDs reduce the amount of energy compared to high-pressure sodium bulbs. The issue with LEDs is that they cost more than traditional lighting systems, but they pay themselves off the long run.
The city of Boulder implemented regulations on the cannabis industry, starting in 2015, Boulder County mandated that any licensed cannabis grower had to obtain 100 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources (Geiling, 2015). If the growers are not able to obtain 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, they could instead pay into an energy offset fund.The fund is then used to educate cannabis growers about using less energy and capitalizing on renewable energy resources. Overall the laws mainly federal laws are potentially the biggest drivers in making the cannabis industry unsustainable. The reason for this is because marijuana is only legal in states where is does not grow well outside. This forces these industries to grow in only indoor facilities, as soon as marijuana is legal on a national level, there will be a reduction in prices which will lead to more outdoor farms across the U.S. This industry is far from sustainable, which is quite ironic considering most “stoners” are environmentalist. The industry will continue on this unsustainable path, until regulations are implemented or the price of cannabis is reduced.