Cannabis Conundrum: New Data On Indoor Grow Facilities

We’ve already written plenty about the outsized carbon footprint of cannabis. Indoor grow facilities are sprouting up all over the country, with more and more states expanding on the existing liberalization of marijuana use. That’s a problem. 

On one hand, the growth of the cannabis industry is one of the most exciting and interesting economic and societal trends of the past two decades. It’s a rare case study in how tangible the demand for a product that was largely illegal in most countries for the past century can quickly mature into a legitimate business opportunity. And it really is an opportunity. Cannabis is now the most valuable cash crop in the United States. 

But that has come at a massive cost in terms of energy consumption and its impact on the environment. Already, Colorado’s burgeoning cannabis industry emits more carbon than its coal industry, and that’s just in a single state. Remember, in that scenario, coal is at least powering other businesses and communities; cannabis is actually drawing that energy off the grid.

It’s important to recognize just how much legalization has changed the process of growing marijuana. Cannabis was once the personal crop of small gardeners, a few hippies wearing straw hats and, we assume, listening to The Grateful Dead. Today, cannabis operations take on the same industrialized, supersized facilities we associate with car manufacturers or a Sam’s Club warehouse. And these are largely indoors; according to one study, 40% of marijuana growers only use indoor facilities. 

From an agricultural sense, indoor grow facilities are more efficient because they protect the crop from the elements. In many northern states, indoor facilities are the only legitimate option due to the short and often varied climate. The cannabis crop is extremely sensitive to heat, light, and irrigation changes, which is why even states with relatively low-risk, high-yield weather patterns still opt to grow at least some or even the majority of their product inside. 

Experts predict that the cannabis industry will consume approximately $6 billion in energy annually at some point in the next decade; by that time, the number of smokers will increase as more states adopt more loose regulations. They won’t exactly be helping the environment, either; marijuana smoking will contribute something like 3 million pounds of carbon into the atmosphere annually in the next decade or sooner. 

As we’ve written about before, states have largely failed at adopting uniform and common-sense standards on energy use and emissions for cannabis facilities. Environmental groups, too, have largely kept quiet on the cannabis issue, likely worried about spark controversy to supporters who may be avid smokers and see environmental regulation as a barrier to legalization. There’s also just the insanity of which states are allowing indoor facilities, period; no one would be allowed to grow bananas in Alaska because of the energy expense, so why is marijuana viewed as viable? 

At present, cannabis faces an uphill battle to improve indoor production, with improvements in self-supported energy production with renewables, improved irrigation techniques, requisite purchasing of carbon credits to offset emissions, and the incentive to at least experiment in outdoor production seasonally. 

We want cannabis to be green, and we want the industry to grow. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to ensure that we help indoor facilities improve; even if we see progress 1% at a time, we know it’s the right thing to do for business, for the industry, and for the planet. Let us help; contact us today.