The Variable Carbon Impact of Cannabis

We all know that indoor cannabis production is a big contributor to carbon emissions. Indoor facilities have a large energy demand and an outsized carbon footprint, but a new study has found that the impact is much larger than originally anticipated.

A recent effort from Colorado State University has identified a more accurate picture of cannabis and its energy demands. The study, which was published in the journal Nature Sustainability, endeavored to track and measure the variable energy costs and impact on cannabis production regionally. The cost, and pollution, of cannabis can vary widely across the country, with different facilities drawing power from energy grids running on either natural gas, coal, or other energy sources. As a result, the cost per kilogram of dried flower in price can change from region to region and state to state, but so can the environmental impact.

That variability was more pronounced than the experts anticipated. They found that life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions range from 2,283 and 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of dried flower. That’s a staggering amount of energy, but it’s perhaps more startling when compared to the emissions from outdoor facilities, which ranged from 22.7 to 326.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide. 

Climate factors play a major role in where energy is needed in the process, while the physical location of the facility itself impacts the cost. For instance, Florida growers spend an outsized portion of their energy, and budget, on dehumidification due to its humid climate. Colorado, Michigan, and other states with colder climates are forced to invest more heavily in heating. The location of the facility can change how much these facilities pay as well. States like Colorado, and cities like Denver, specifically, have regulations that require facilities to be located close to retail locations. That’s pushed growers into expensive metro areas, which greatly increases their energy costs and their impact on the local grid. 

Cannabis is a $13 billion industry in the US that is only getting bigger. To date, 36 states have some legal marijuana legislation, while 15 states have legalized recreational use. To meet this demand and meet our responsibilities in the fight against climate change, we need to address the energy impact the industry has on our grid and our planet.

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