As the UN-sponsored climate summit in Glasgow winds up today, it’s clear that the usual suspects – the oil, gas & coal industries – have a lot of explaining to do. And according to a paper in Nature this year, so does the cannabis industry.
The researchers say that for every 2 lbs of dried cannabis produced, somewhere between 5000 and 10,000 lbs of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. And that adds up: In Colorado, for instance, cannabis is thought to produce more CO2 emissions than coal mining – and that state is the 10th largest coal producer of coal in the US. Overall, cannabis has a carbon footprint 10,000 times worse than other crops, such as corn or wheat.
The problem is almost all cannabis is grown indoors. Which means high electrical costs for heating &/or air conditioning, high intensity grow lights, ventilation, humidity regulation, fans, and so on. In fact, these energy costs are so high it’s often huge electrical bills that tip cops to where illegal grow-ops are.
So to escape weather constraints, why not just grow it outdoors in warm southern states and ship it to northern points of sale? Federal Law: The Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the 50-year old Nixon era legislation not only outlawed cannabis, it placed it in the most dangerous category of outlawed drugs, along with heroin and LSD. With the upshot that moving cannabis across state lines constitutes the interstate transportation of a controlled substance – regardless of whether the states involved have themselves legalized cannabis – and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison for a first offense, 10 years for a second offense.
So what’s grown in, say, Colorado, stays in Colorado. And with the increasing state-level legalization of cannabis, the corresponding ramp up of pot farms will ensure that the cannabis industry-emission problem will only get worse before it gets better.
The Nature paper spells out the remedy: “policy adaptation,” which, of course, is code for the federal legalization of cannabis, something the Senate Democrats are doing their level best to accomplish.
If successful, cannabis could be grown in its natural habitat and its carbon footprint would plummet. It’s estimated that simply moving those plants outside would drop CO2 emissions by 96%, transforming the industry from yet another dirty business — with a carbon output that rivals major extractive industries – to a sustainable, green industry.