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Cannabis Growers Hurt the Environment, Now They’re Trying to Fix It

2 minute Read

While cannabis may be associated with a more health-conscious or mindful way of life, growing weed has actually been pretty bad for the environment.

According to a report prepared for the Oregon legislature, even just one mature cannabis plant can consume up to 23 liters of water per day. Wine grape plants, on the other hand, require only 13 liters. Growers throughout states like California or Oregon have for years been damaging the environment, withdrawing excessively from water sources to irrigate their plants, clearing native vegetation, scorching the soil, spraying toxic pesticides and other chemicals onto the cannabis plants and into the atmosphere. Meanwhile indoor growers use an inordinate amount of electricity to light their plants. According to a 2012 report, three percent of electricity usage in California goes to cultivating indoor pot plants. With the proliferation of California’s industry in the five years since that report was published, it’s likely that number is much higher now.

All that said, things are starting to change. State legislatures are getting smarter about regulating cannabis cultivation, now that it’s legal, while growers themselves are aiming to abide by more conscientious cultivation methods.

“I think being environmentally friendly is the best way to make that money,” says Ryan Jennemann, co-founder of THC Design, a cannabis cultivation company in southern California. At his cultivation facility, Jenneman uses cats instead of toxic traps to deter rodents; thin tubes to drain water runoff into a recycling system; a dehumidifier to extract water from air and he reuses it to nourish his weed. Meanwhile, the leftover cannabis stems after the bud has been picked are donated to use for recycled paper.

While Jenneman is a good example for an indoor grow, there are also organic cultivators growing outdoor cannabis in northern California according to environmentally conscious standards and values. Many of these growers are showcased in the Emerald Exchange, a cannabis farmers market for boutique, artisan cultivators.

They’re a counterpoint to many trespass grows in northern California where cultivators steal water from public watersheds and streams, pollute the water and environment, and create toxic conditions for the surrounding wildlife.

“It’s so important to get the marijuana industry out of the black market and into a regulated market,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director and senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “{California} has to make sure there is a level playing field and to make sure the ones that are cutting corners aren’t given a competitive advantage…We need to see carbon neutral cannabis that reduces the types of energy {consumption}.”

He recommends high solar energy to reduce electricity use. Greenhouses are another option for growers who want to save on having to heat up their plants, since they would only need to be heated up at night. Technologies like LED grow lights are also more energy efficient. Growers can also cultivate “companion plants” like mint to ward off pests without having to use toxic chemicals. They can also use composted tea as a soil nutrient.

At the end of the day, however, as pot goes legal, the way it’s cultivated will full under greater scrutiny as well, as state governments license growers and regulate their cultivation practices.

Cannabis Growers Hurt the Environment, Now They’re Trying to Fix It