With global waves of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, cannabis cultivation is on the rise. Explore the environmental footprint of cannabis through the natural resources it takes to produce it and the effects of its growth.
Outdoor Cannabis Farming
The past decade has seen an increase in the worldwide decriminalization and legalization of medical and recreational cannabis. This increase contributes to a rise in cannabis consumption and cultivation. Outdoor farms operate similarly to other agricultural crops receiving much of what the plants need from the natural environment. In the United States, northern California is the leader in outdoor cannabis production. State regulators estimate the region to produce 1.7 million pounds of cannabis each year. Such a harvest is sure to affect the environment, and unfortunately, it is not in positive ways. Growing cannabis outdoors is associated with land clearing, the diversion of surface water, and agrochemical pollution.
Cannabis Cultivation Effect on Water
Before cannabis is rolled into any joint, it starts as a little seed that requires a lot of love and attention. The marijuana plant is a water and nutrient-intensive crop. It requires 22 liters of water per plant each day during the growing season. Approximately 430 million liters of water for the average crops yielded in California from June to October. That is a lot of water being used during the year’s driest months. To put this water rate into perspective, wine grapes only consume 271 million liters of water per growing season.
Farmers pulling this water from groundwater wells rather than surface water can threaten connected watersheds if annual recharge rates fall below the extraction rate. Too much out and not enough in. Researchers found that water consumption could exceed local streamflow during the cannabis growing season. With increased cultivation, limitations may be soon underway to avoid an environmental catastrophe.
Environmental Dangers of Pesticides Use
Cannabis’ effect on our water does not stop at excess use. Pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and petroleum fuels used during the growing process are associated with numerous damaging environmental impacts. The main concern is these chemical agents contribute to water contamination. Chemically contaminated runoff water can enter nearby water banks endangering aquatic life. Not to mention the risks to human health with pesticide residue on cannabis products.
Health regulators require testing for authorized and unauthorized pesticides in cannabis products in Canada. Due to the different laws around cannabis in each state, the US has no federal regulation. Researchers believe the majority of environmental concerns around pesticides come from illegal growing. Studies from 2012 and 2014 found “more than 80% of deceased Pacific fishers they discovered in northern California and the southern Sierra Nevada were exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides, pesticides used to control wood rats in black-market marijuana cultivation.”
Trespass Systems and their Negative Impact on the Environment
The illegal outdoor cannabis cultivation on public grounds is referred to as trespass systems. These sites typically use water without permission from local sources and employ the aid of toxic pesticides. Trespass systems are usually created in national forests and tribal lands. In 2018, there were an estimated 17,000 trespass systems on federal and private property in just one county in northern California.
This illegal growing is somewhat tedious as irrigation systems from local agriculture and streams are diverted to water cannabis plants. The potential crisis from water and chemical use to cultivate cannabis is exemplified in trespass systems, harming wildlife and our environment. This can also taint the reputation of legal cannabis cultivation, where several farms take pride in their agricultural work.
Surplus of Energy Required to Grow Cannabis Indoor
Although the majority of cannabis grown is produced outdoors, indoor farming has also increased with new legalization. Despite having fewer environmental drawbacks than outdoor growing, indoor cultivation is not innocent. Indoor facilities rely on the artificial provision of water, soil, nutrients, and energy. They are typically integrated within municipal power, water, and sewage systems and require high amounts of energy that can contribute to climate issues.
The energy used to cultivate cannabis is assigned to lighting, water, and air circulation. In the early stages of growth, plants are subjected to 24 hours of light. Later in the plant’s life, that amount of light received daily can be reduced to 8-12 hours. A 2019 study revealed the annual energy consumption for US cultivation was 4.2 megawatts per hour. That is roughly the combined energy use of 1,386 homes within one hour, producing almost 43,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. As a greenhouse gas, excessive CO2 emissions trap the sun’s heat, leading to warming of the planet and oceans. Although warmer days are perfect for smoking, we rather not have our cannabis contributing to climate change.
Indoor Cannabis Cultivation Effects on Air Quality
Greenhouse gas emissions are not solely produced by cannabis growth but are common in agriculture production. However, CO2 is not the only recorded emission from cultivating cannabis. A study measured biogenic volatile compounds (BVOC) emitted by marijuana plants grown in greenhouse conditions. This BVOC could contribute to ozone formation and particulate matter pollution. This study suggests BVOC emissions from indoor cultivated cannabis in Colorado could contribute to ozone formation and particulate matter pollution.
A decrease in the indoor air quality at cannabis growing facilities poses a threat to workers. Adding filters like industrial carbon scrubbers or implementing emission control prior to exhaust can help reduce BVOCs and other harmful emissions in these indoor operations. So the only thing anyone in the industry breathes in is sweet sativa.
Growing Cannabis and Tackling Environmental Issues
Despite the medical and recreational pros of cannabis, its cultivation may prove troublesome to the environment. Luckily, some states have established regulations for growers. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has set guidelines for Washington's wastewater, air quality, and odor controls. They are also sorting permitted pesticides and fertilizers. The California Water Board has set specific cannabis cultivation policies to protect water quality, instream flows, aquatic habitat, riparian habitat, wetlands, and springs. To stop the leading environmental threat, trespass systems, the United States Forest Service Law Enforcement has a division dedicated to ending illegal cultivation and protecting the natural land.
Potential ecological concerns are always present in any agriculture. Thankfully, with proper guidelines, we can grow green while going green.
Canna4Climate Day is 4/21
As cannabis enthusiasts, we don’t have to wait for regulations to help our environment. Cannabis advocates and content creators WeedTube have created the perfect opportunity to help our earth in appreciation for the flora we love. After a hearty 4/20 blaze, celebrate Canna4Climate Day on April 21. WeedTube declared 4/21 a holiday to bridge National Cannabis Day and Earth Day (4/22).
WeedTude established C4C to change the perception of what a “stoner” is, bring awareness to how the growing cannabis industry can be more conscious of its processes and procedures, as well as highlight how hemp can change our world for the better. Last year was the holiday's inception involving activists, influencers, and Earth-lovers from around the United States and Canada. The event brought out hundreds of people who joined in the restoration of outdoor areas, aided in furthering the destigmatization of cannabis culture, and promoted clean, conscious consumption.
How to Celebrate Canna4Climate Day
On April 21, gather everyone you know to help clean your community. The C4C website recommends visiting rivers, outdoor areas, parks, local gardens, parking lots, or even bus stops to be your cleaning canvas. Snap before and after pictures to share for a greater opportunity to connect with others in the C4C community and show off your hard work. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #C4C and tag @canna4climate so they too can share your content. Posting brings visibility to the holiday and helps to mobilize the movement.
Those interested can head over to the C4C website and take the pledge to participate. There you can also find merchandise like masks and t-shirts where all proceeds are donated to The Ocean Clean Up. Stoner status is optional as Canna4Climate is a non-consumption event, allowing anyone and everyone to participate. However, it may not hurt to reward yourself with a 4/20 part 2 after cleaning up the earth.
Learn More Online
Find out more about Canna4Climate by visiting canna4climate.com. Learn more about The WeedTube and its content creators at theweedtube.com. Follow @canna4climate on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date on climate change initiatives led by the cannabis community.