Marijuana: The Environmental Side to Lighting Up, And Why Legalizing It Would Make All Of Our Grass Greener

Growers spend roughly five billion dollars cultivating that which—in California, at least—is only legally available to those who can prove their medical need. The resonance of the U.S. agricultural investment that is Cannabis lies not just in the plant’s presence in the fiscal sphere. It is a crop whose tenuous legal status and the subsequent means of cultivating it—using indoor sources of heat and light—implicate it in issues of power. A new study reveals that the production costs of the United States’ largest cash crop—marijuana—make up one percent of the nation’s total electricity production. Marijuana has a surprisingly large carbon footprint. It’s estimated that one joint of marijuana represents almost 2 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. The energy used to cultivate marijuana represents 3 percent of California’s electricity use, 30 hours spent running a 100-watt light bulb for that single joint.

A scientist from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted a study that found that the majority of energy consumed in marijuana production is a result of inefficient methods of heating and lighting used to keep indoor cannabis production hidden from law enforcement. The requisite secrecy for those who grow the crop illegally has an accompanying inefficiency. Being unable to police marijuana production also means being unable to police its inefficient energy expenses.

Greenhouse gas emissions can be regulated through programs and legislation when the energy demand is acknowledged and addressed in a realistic context. The electricity demand from marijuana cultivation must be acknowledged as such to be adequately standardized. California’s Air Resources Board could implement policies that set efficiency standards on marijuana production, or use city zoning in favor of medical marijuana cultivation, if only it were acceptable to acknowledge the reality of the plant’s production beyond the narrow scope of medical dispensaries.