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When it comes to environmental impact, marijuana is one of the dirtiest products in agriculture, if not all industries. As social attitudes around cannabis shift, advocates may be tempted to glaze over the problems with the emerging industry. The carbon cost of a joint is a staggering ~5000 times its weight, and that is before it’s even smoked.

bake carbon offset into the production systems of tomorrow

Firms across Canada and the US are starting to build the infrastructure for a new industry in commercial cannabis production. As we advance the frontier of this novel sector, we face a choice: tow the line of dirty indoor production, or bake carbon offset into the production systems of tomorrow.

Today, some estimate that 90% of the cannabis grown in North America is cultivated indoors. This necessitates generated light, and a lot of it. Grow lighting for the cannabis market has pushed wattage and luminance to levels that well exceed industry standards in agriculture. Thousand watt lamps tightly pack rooms to nudge the photosynthetic process, creating plenty of waste heat in the process.

This heat needs to be countered by energy-intensive air conditioning units, which then transpire, altering humidity. Rebalancing humidity to suit transpiring plants and changing light cycles creates a further energy sink. This loop does not optimize for environment, but rather treats side effects. The result: one kilogram of indoor cannabis requires the energy equivalent of 4600 kilograms of carbon output, or driving a car across Canada 11 times.

California, where dispensaries are prolific, is a prime offender. The Okanogan Cannabis Association estimates that 3% of the energy in that state goes to cultivating cannabis. That is likely far more than Californians use to illuminate their homes.

Vote for a clean future for cannabis

Fossil fuels dominate electricity production in the world today. Shifting to renewable sources of electricity is as important as reducing burden on the grid. Choosing lower energy impact is a responsibility for all consumers, especially those who purchase cannabis. Demand conservation from the products you buy, and producers will adapt to the marketplace. You vote with every dollar you spend. Vote for a clean future for cannabis.