We need to plant the seeds for a more sustainable cannabis industry

Advocating for environmentally friendly changes to how marijuana is cultivated must be a joint effort

Growing weed can be costly for the environment.
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Since its legalization, marijuana has become a big industry in Canada, and like most industries of its size, it comes with a substantial environmental impact—but it doesn’t have to.

Marijuana requires specific temperature and humidity levels to grow efficiently, and growing marijuana indoors requires a huge amount of energy consumption. If you were to walk into a flowering room at most of Canada’s legal cannabis producers, you’d be immediately immersed in the orange glow of high-pressure sodium lamps and hear the whirring of HVAC systems and fans. All these things require energy to keep them running—and they need a lot of it. 

Marijuana grown in greenhouses is slightly better for the environment. However, with Canada’s cold climate and limited sunlight for most of the year, powerful, artificial lighting is still necessary to supplement the sun for some seasons. Heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer is also necessary, which still requires a lot of energy. 

The production of a single joint creates approximately 1.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. To put this in perspective, that’s the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by running a 60 watt LED lamp for 200 hours.

Growing marijuana outdoors is obviously more energy efficient, but growing outdoors reveals its own set of problems. Obtaining a patch of land to plant weed can require cutting down 

entire forests, diverting rivers, and disrupting ecosystems. The pesticides used on marijuana farms also pose risks to the surrounding environment. 

Cannabis cultivation also requires a large amount of water consumption. A thirsty pot plant is estimated to consume six gallons of water a day—in comparison, a commercial dishwasher uses about four gallons of water per load. A sizable marijuana operation could use close to one billion litres of water per acre over a growing season. 

Waste management is also a problem in the marijuana industry. The plants don’t have a very long life, and after they’re harvested and the buds are removed, most of the plant is thrown away. Extraction chemicals and sample testings are also discarded, and if not properly disposed of, could cause serious environmental problems. However, this problem can be mitigated if marijuana growers move toward composting the plant matter and safely disposing of any leftover chemicals. 

It’s true: marijuana plants consume a lot of energy, require a lot of water, and create a lot of waste. However, none of this is to say that you shouldn’t responsibly consume marijuana if you’re of age. 

There are environmentally friendly ways to improve the cannabis industry, and not all of them are exclusive to the weed industry—they extend to other farming practices as well. Energy efficient standards could help guarantee less wasteful production. A cleaner energy mix could mean fewer emissions from growing weed. Encouraging composting in the business could help get rid of some of the waste produced by cultivation. If we want to get serious about climate change and protecting the environment, a more sustainable marijuana industry is possible. 

If you purchase cannabis that comes from commercial growers, consider making advocating for more sustainable cultivation practices part of your environmental agenda. Demanding changes in the face of the climate crisis is vital, and it can start with your weed. 

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