A 2011 study by Dr. Evan Mills at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is still the touchstone for conversations about the problem of energy consumption posed by indoor marijuana cultivation. Much has changed in cannabis agriculture over the past four years, but there is no reason to suppose that the report’s jaw-dropping statistics have gotten better for the environment. According to “Energy up in Smoke: The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production,”
“[I]ndoor Cannabis production results in energy expenditures of $6 billion each year—6-times that of the entire U.S. pharmaceutical industry—with electricity use equivalent to that of 2 million average U.S. homes. This corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households. The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution (carbon dioxide, CO2 ) from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars. Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value.”
A single joint represents about 10 pounds of CO2 emissions.
One of the benefits of legalization is that it permits regulation to promote important societal goals. Although the prevention of greenhouse gas pollution is not one of the eight priorities specifically identified by the Cole memorandum, prevention of environmental damage is clearly implied.
Effective environmental regulation takes three things, however:
- the wisdom to develop and the political will to implement a consensus about standards,
- the technology that makes achieving those standards possible and
- the financial incentives to make investment in that technology attractive in a free market economy.
Carbon dioxide emissions in the United States increased by about 7 percent between 1990 and 2013 and have been linked to California’s historic drought. Achieving and implementing environmental standards has never been more urgent, especially in the light of California’s expected drive toward legalization in 2016.
Electrical consumption is a big driver of greenhouse gas production. The requirements of indoor lighting, ventilation, heating, dehumidification, air conditioning and odor control are big drivers of electrical consumption. Reducing electrical consumption will therefore reduce greenhouse gas production.
In Oregon, voters have already begun to call for statewide energy efficiency standards for growers. The hope is that this will incentivize manufacturers to produce fixtures to meet new codes and prompt utilities to adjust standards to go along with them.
Horticultural lighting comes in several basic different varieties: high intensity discharge grow lights (HIDs), compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), other fluorescent lighting, light emitting diodes (LEDs) and induction lighting. Some progressive growers have also moved to secure greenhouse cultivation, which permits them to make use of natural sunlight.
Cannabis is fussy about light and some forms of lighting may be more appropriate to some growth phases than others. Nonetheless, whatever their other merits, some forms of lighting consume less electricity, generate less heat and require less cooling. The technology is there.
Now, About the Financial Incentives
The city of Boulder, Colorado, requires marijuana growers to purchase their energy from renewable sources like wind energy, solar energy or by buying carbon offsets. The problem is that it increases growing costs by an estimated 20 to 22 percent. This has led some growers to experiment with newer more energy efficient induction lighting systems, like those manufactured by iGrow Induction Lighting from Cleveland, Ohio.
Other pieces of the incentive puzzle might involve energy efficiency rebates for reduced consumption, like those offered on a case-by-case basis by Xcel Energy in Colorado. Still another way might include state tax deductions to offset the cost of new equipment. Applied broadly to all indoor agriculture, this might address the issue of greenhouse gases in a larger way. The repeal or amendment of Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code could make federal tax incentives available to cannabis businesses.
Carbon pollution could be used as a powerful argument against legalization, but preventing it could also be a powerful principle for shaping the legal industry.