5 Ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable

Twitter icon

There are a variety of ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable. Here are some to consider.

The cannabis industry has exploded, growing an unprecedented 30% in 2016 to $6.7 billion in early 2017. This profit gain happened largely as the legal markets expanded, allowing marijuana users in many states to purchase the drug recreationally.

But forget the money for a second. With all this production, both by individuals and industrial growers, the environment has certainly taken a hit. Many lawmakers have sought to make sure states make their residents comply with environmental standards through more enforcement.

Nonetheless, there are a number of ways to reduce the impact on the environment when it comes to weed. Here are five ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable.

1. Alternative Transportation Practices

5 Ways To Make The Cannabis Industry More Sustainable

Like the organic on that fancy restaurant plate, the best food goes from farm to table. With cannabis, transportation is part of the process of production. The consumer can’t enjoy the green without the committed drivers transporting it to the dispensary (or your local weed dealer).

Transportation, using fossil fuels and other resources, threatens the sustainability of cannabis operations. Finding suitable, economic, and environmentally friendly ways to deliver crops to the market will help to decrease the threat many cannabis industries pose on the environment.

For those navigating these vehicles with cannabis, they acknowledge that carrying the product is a lot like transporting gold. It lacks serial numbers, customers deal in cash, and the cargo comes uninsured. For this reason, many of the vehicles are armored.

The job may be risky. But riskier would be not ensuring these vehicles leave as little carbon footprint as possible by undergoing regular maintenance.

Targeting transportation is one of the many ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable. Energy-efficient vehicles that use fewer fossil fuels or less electricity can help to cut down on the environmental impact of transportation.

Sourcing dispensaries with weed grown locally will also aid in cutting down the toll on the environment.

2. Conserve Water

5 Ways To Make The Cannabis Industry More Sustainable

Unfortunately, cannabis is a high water-use plant. It consumes up to 23 liters of water per plant per day. That’s more than the grapes used for wine picked from California vineyards. There in that state of eternal sunshine and drought, cannabis farms utilize the watersheds to keep their crops thriving.

Just four watersheds alone supply water to between 23,000 and 32,000 marijuana plants, depleting each watershed by 138,000 to 192,000 gallons per day.

Since weed has been legalized in the state, farmers must now comply with state laws limiting their consumption of water from these areas near the Emerald Triangle. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act now forces those taking from these watersheds to prove they have the legal right to this water as well as build storage for this water for the winter months.

In this way, the surface-water flows will be tapped less, encouraging the watershed to restore naturally.

Besides controlling the consumption of the natural supply, cannabis growers look for other alternative methods to conserve water. GrowX may be leading the way. Using a system called “aeroponics”, this company discovered one of the most brilliant ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable.

Following NASA’s lead when they learned about the process with beans, GrowX experimented with the cannabis plant, suspending it by its roots in a moist environment. Water vapor keeps the plant hydrated.

But neither soil or hydroponic apparatus are needed.

Aeroponics requires 95 percent less water than outdoor farming, 40 percent less water than indoor hydroponic farms.

To top it off, the system gets more bang for the buck while conserving water. Amazingly, using aeroponics can yield 300 percent larger than traditional yields. Knowing all this, it appears aeroponics may provide a solution to keeping the industry more sustainable.

3. Reduce Fossil Fuel Use

5 Ways To Make The Cannabis Industry More Sustainable

Here’s an ugly truth one should consider when they light up their next J. Producing just a couple pounds of weed can have as detrimental of an effect as driving across the US seven times.

Story Continues Below

Maybe that stat about causing that carbon footprint doesn’t bring about any guilt. But maybe it would be harder to learn that most of the electricity that fuels Denver’s indoor facilities runs on the city’s coal-fired power plants.

Cannabis operations are more energy intensive per-square-foot than other businesses in Denver. So this fact is significant. Finding a way to reduce electricity use and oil is imperative to the ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable.

Indeed, a recent study showed that one pot plant requires up to 70 gallons of oil to grow. Also, it’s estimated weed production contributes to emissions equal to the level of 3 million typical U.S. cars.

In order to make the industry more sustainable, many in the cannabis industry need to turn to renewable and alternative energy sources to produce their crop. And some have.

Micro-grid company Scale has a system that brings together solar, battery storage and natural gas generators, potentially cutting energy cost by up to 35 percent.

4. Land-Use Planning and Policy

5 Ways To Make The Cannabis Industry More Sustainable

Generally, pot finds itself grown in indoor facilities. But many plants are found in outdoor fields, especially in the Golden State. Since it has a history of outdoor marijuana cultivation, California has provided a source of research for those interested in the ecological effects of marijuana farming.

In recent studies of the land used for growing weed, scientists discovered the effects on the natural wildlife. Many outdoor cannabis farms are set up in remote areas. Often they are on slopes. Access roads to the crops do not exist.

So farmers wandering their fields and harvesting the product often compromise the land and contribute to soil erosion.

Even with indoor facilities, water use and the land cleared to make space for these farms threaten the natural wildlife. Chinook salmon and steelhead trout face harm from run-off at these sites.

In order to adhere to the ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable, farmers must take into consideration land-use planning. Farmers must factor better access to roads, gentler slopes, and ample water resources.

Furthermore, states with legalized cannabis must mandate land-use policies.

Look at California, for instance. The state caps the size of outdoor production to 1 acre per parcel. Keeping to these laws will help to fight off forest fragmentation, stream modification, soil erosion and landslides from weed agriculture.

5. Stay Up-To-Date on Lighting

5 Ways To Make The Cannabis Industry More Sustainable

In order to grow weed in the indoor facilities where it can be controlled best, farmers must use artificial light. That light, powered by electricity, increases the farm’s need for energy and slices into their budget and profits.

Keeping an eye on the electricity needed to run these extensive indoor lighting systems that use UV and LED sources costs a pretty penny.

Colorado Harvest Company’s Flower Room admitted they faced an average $12,000 monthly electricity bill. This bill is only for their 10,000-square-foot indoor facility. Across the board, electricity can account for nearly 20 percent of the costs of running a grow operation.

More than a cost to the farmer, grow ops take a toll on the environment. Overuse of electricity adds to the total carbon footprint. In 2014, Denver claimed to have 362 indoor growing operations.

Those facilities consumed more than 2 percent of the entire city’s electricity usage.

To stay cost-efficient and energy-friendly, industrial farms must constantly ensure they use the most up-to-date lighting technologies. But they must also be careful of new technologies using more electricity than the lights already being used.

Many farmers use high pressure sodium (HPS) lights. Still, innovations continue to make their way to the market.

None so much recently as the LED lights. But if a farm truly wants to practice the ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable, they must be vigilant at keeping up-to-date on the most modern, efficient lighting for their crops.

Doing so will help save the owner money and the environment from eventual collapse.

5 Ways To Make The Cannabis Industry More Sustainable

In the end, the best of the ways to make the cannabis industry more sustainable would be to legalize the plant on a federal level.

Once it is no longer a Schedule 1 drug, public lands will not be utilized to farm the plant in secret, keeping the process underground where it is illegal. Federal forces can control and regulate the standards for the use and disposal of toxic substances.

Finally, with production out in the open, farmers will be free to engage in their agricultural enterprise. They may use outdoor fields or greenhouses which both rely more on natural light.

No longer will they have to use artificial light in secret indoor grow facilities. No more will they have to use off-grid electricity from diesel or propane.

Cannabis farming would no longer be in the dark. In fact, it could happen for all to see. And finally for all to enjoy. But hopefully without harming the world in which we live any more than they have to.

e-mail icon Facebook icon Twitter icon LinkedIn icon Reddit icon
Rate this article: 
Regional Marijuana News: