Covert cannabis production is not as green as it seems

While some industries naturally bring to mind clouds of unpleasant greenhouse gases – think auto or aviation – others slip under the radar, such as the clothing and fashion sector, which is estimated to contribute 10% of the world’s carbon footprint.

Cannabis production on the other hand, in large part due to its mostly covert status, is sabotaging its own green credentials.

Even in North America, where cannabis is fully legalized in Canada, and fully or partly legal in 26 US states, the black market still dwarfs the legal/medical market.

In Canada this was estimated to be on a scale of 80:1 – or 15 million tons of black-market vs 190,000 tons of medical cannabis in 2015. While the legal market has since grown to around 30% (from 1.5%), this still leaves a huge unregulated sector.

The majority of black-market cannabis, in North America and Europe in particular, is grown indoors in inefficient small-scale grow-ops, using huge amounts of electricity for halogen lamps and heaters. In California alone, it’s estimated that indoor grow-ops use an equivalent amount of power to that produced by the Hoover Dam every year, with the production of just 1kg equating to driving a family car more than 10,000km.

How to cut cannabis carbon footprint?

Progressive cannabis legislation that not only allows but also encourages outdoor or industrial greenhouse production would make a massive difference to the carbon footprint of an already massive industry.

As Dan Sutton’s excellent 2015 TEDx talk highlights, cannabis thrives in sunlight, so in the cooler climes of the Northern Hemisphere it can be grown in hyper-efficient industrial greenhouses, combining natural light and heat with the latest technology. Equally, in climates like those of South and South-East Asia, a legalized cannabis industry would provide a valuable cash crop in developing economies while also reducing the carbon footprint of the underground industry.

It’s also worth noting that cannabis is a CO2-hungry plant, so expanded production using outdoor- and greenhouse-grown plants can help to repay the industry’s total footprint by absorbing millions of tons of carbon as they grow and flower.

Mind Body Community says:

There are many excellent reasons to support progressive cannabis legislation. But given the severity of the global climate situation, ensuring that the cannabis industry is green on the inside as well as the outside is close to the top of our list.

Watch Dan Sutton’s TEDx talk in full here: