The Big Grow Debate: Which Is Better, Indoor or Outdoor Pot?

As the black market in cannabis evolved, people figured out a way to grow their stuff one way or another. Maybe it was in a basement under lights, in a guerrilla patch in the middle of a national park, or in pots hanging from trees—because ganja seems to grow anywhere prying eyes won’t find it. But now that the fight for legalization appears to be on its way to victory, cannabis cultivators of the future—and some from the present—will have the chance to revisit the question: “Should I go indoor or outdoor?”

We’ll present all sides of this debate to allow our readers to make their own decision. Check out two radically opposing perspectives on the issue, as well as a discussion of the true carbon footprint of cannabis. Remember, the following statements don’t necessarily represent the opinion of HIGH TIMES. We smoke and dab all cannabis equally, and we don’t discriminate against or favor one cultivation method over another.

Indoor Pot Is Best! By Josh Haupt

Mother Nature gave us an amazing plant, and I will forever respect outdoor-grown cannabis. However, as with so much else, the technology for cannabis cultivation has far exceeded what was available in previous decades. It’s almost unfair to put outdoor and indoor cannabis growing in the same category: Outdoor grows rely on Mother Nature to control the most important variables, while indoor-gardening techniques will allow you to control the same factors with ease.

Environment plays a huge role in why indoor cannabis will always be superior. When growing outdoors, your crop is only as good as the season allows. The gardener is at a serious disadvantage, because seasonal elements determine the crucial environmental factors in a cannabis plant’s life cycle. Don’t get me wrong: In a climate that’s conducive to outdoor gardens, Mother Nature can do a great job for you! However, cloudy days decrease productivity by blocking light; winds or rain cause humidity levels to fluctuate; and, most significantly, an early frost can wreak havoc, killing entire crops overnight. These stressful events will diminish trichome development throughout the season, leaving the flowers with a weathered or rugged look and, consequently, a heavier-tasting smoke.

Nowadays, you can plant an amazing indoor garden that will yield a consistently bountiful crop no matter what the season is. When undertaken correctly, indoor gardens give you the ability to control everything from the temperature, humidity and CO2 level to the air movement and light spectrum the plant receives. Combine this with a good food and water regimen and strong genetics, and you’re set for success. If you have control of all of these variables, your plants will enjoy a stress-free life cycle, possess a more vibrant and attractive appearance, and produce a much lighter and smoother-tasting smoke.

Which brings me to my last point: price! It’s common knowledge in the cannabis community that indoor pot is much more expensive than outdoor. There’s a visible difference in quality; it’s very easy for any experienced cannabis user to tell one from the other. Numbers don’t lie! Indoor will always be considered superior because consumers prefer top quality.

Josh Haupt is the author of Three a Light and the CEO of Tree House commercial gardens in Colorado.

Outdoor Pot Is Best! By Jeremy Moberg

In the early 1980s, the objective of Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs was the complete eradication of the cannabis plant. Marijuana-seeking helicopters forced growers to cultivate deep in the hills, where it was difficult to grow and tend the plants. Outdoor guerrilla growers were often lucky to harvest at all, and the resulting crop wasn’t always the best. Other growers took their craft indoors to avoid prying choppers. These indoor growers quickly improved their techniques and “green bud” was born, creating the new standard of cannabis that we know today.

Unfortunately, indoor production consumes a tremendous amount of power. A study by scientist Evan Mills, published in the Journal of Energy Policy in 2011, put that number at 1 percent of the nation’s total energy supply, equal to the power consumption of two million average homes and valued at $5 billion a year. This would be like having three million additional cars on the road, belching out carbon dioxide and warming our planet. It means that every joint you smoke requires the same amount of energy to produce as leaving a 100-watt light bulb on for 17 hours, or driving a 44-mile-per-gallon vehicle for 15 miles. This energy use drives up the cost of cannabis.

Today’s commercially produced indoor cannabis relies mostly on industrial fertilizers and pesticides to control the pests that rapidly flourish in enclosed monocultures. Growing under the sun provides a natural, bio-diverse environment that keeps these pests largely at bay due to natural competition. Also, synthetic fertilizer or pesticide residues can be toxic when smoked or concentrated.

Indoor cultivation has also played a role in the evolution of the plant, since indoor growers tend to favor indica-dominant strains with shorter statures and flowering times. For indoor growers, fast-flowering strains mean productive, profitable gardens that can keep up with their overhead. While medical patients may appreciate these indicas, the recreational consumer tends to prefer the cerebral and creative effects that sativa-dominant crosses have. Most indoor gardens can’t house tall sativas, but with outdoor growers, the sky’s limit. Full-season cannabis plants grow to majestic heights of up to 20 feet, with astonishing yields that keep teams of harvesters busy for days.

Outdoor cannabis is better because the sun’s natural light spectrum produces more cannabinoids and terpenes, increasing the plant’s flavor and potency—the two qualities every cannabis aficionado values. A Washington State–certified lab compared 2,700 samples and found that sun-grown cannabis was at least 1 percent higher in THC than indoor plants; likewise, terpene response is best under the sun. And when light-deprivation techniques are used, outdoor cannabis delivers the highest quality, regardless of whether it’s sativa or indica.

Jeremy Moberg is the president of Cannasol Farms in Eastern Washington.

The Modern Greenhouse: The Best of Both Worlds By Danny Danko

It’s true that marijuana grown indoors is typically more desirable—and it’s certainly more expensive, both for consumers and the environment. And it’s true that sun-grown outdoor pot tends to suffer from the elements but is much cheaper and more environmentally sustainable to produce. So how about striking a happy medium between the two—a technique that utilizes the advantages of both while minimizing their drawbacks?

In an enclosed greenhouse, the detrimental environmental factors of outdoor growing like wind, dust and rain aren’t a problem. You can also avoid issues with deer, gophers and other pests that can decimate an outdoor crop quickly. A greenhouse gives growers some control over their environment and keeps them from being at the mercy of the elements.

Greenhouses can also absorb and retain heat, allowing growers to plant earlier in the spring and continue growing later in the fall. This allows canny cultivators to grow longer-flowering sativa strains that normally wouldn’t finish ripening outdoors before the fall frosts hit. With the addition of a heater, greenhouses in many areas can operate year-round. I’ve seen tropical plants growing in a heated greenhouse in Maine while snow was on the ground outside.

Greenhouses should be vented to prevent the heat from building up on hot summer days. An air conditioner can also be used to keep temperatures within the desired range. Advances in climate-control technology have enabled growers to fine-tune their spaces and dial in the perfect temp and humidity requirements. Automated monitors and controllers maintain consistency and mimic the conditions that typically give indoor growers the advantage.

Using all of the available sunlight reduces the cost of marijuana production significantly while lowering the carbon footprint of the grow. Greenhouse growers take advantage of the free and plentiful “grow light in the sky” when it’s shining and use supplemental lighting to make up the difference on cloudy, overcast days, or to extend short spring or fall days into longer ones. At the same time, light-deprivation techniques allow growers to reduce the amount of light that the plants receive to 12 hours per day in order to induce the flowering stage during summer.

Because these supplemental grow lights are used only when necessary, the cost savings over indoor growing are substantial. Indoors, high-intensity discharge (HID) lights also produce plenty of heat that must be vented out in order to keep the grow space cool enough for plants to thrive, requiring even more electricity.

As marijuana legalization spreads, the price to the consumer is bound to decline. Competition between dispensaries for customers, and more growers producing more pot than ever, will inevitably lead to a drop in the current prohibition-based prices. As this happens, the cost of production will become much more of a factor, leading an increasing number of cultivators to choose greenhouse growing for their cannabis crops.

How Much Electricity Do Indoor Plants Really Consume? By Sirius J

Jeremy Moberg cites the infamous study by Evan Mills, which claims that indoor cannabis cultivation releases 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per every pound of cannabis produced. This value includes nearly everything required to grow, process and transport high-grade indoor cannabis on a medium to large scale, and when compared with other consumer goods, it makes indoor cannabis look like one of the least environmentally friendly products around. By contrast, producing a personal computer releases approximately 70 pounds of CO2; producing a pound of red meat releases 22 pounds; and producing a pound of chicken releases only 6.

In the end, Mills’s number is a rough estimate, but at least it’s still better than nothing, right? However, we decided to take a deeper look at his analysis and discovered some big inconsistencies. Mills’s study includes the emissions generated by transportation, and it factors in all the different electricity sources that growers might possibly use: whether they plug into the grid in Canada or the United States, whether they use a diesel or gas generator, and so on.

To calculate average power consumption, Mills proposes a theoretical growroom, but he makes some gross overestimates when it comes to ventilation, CO2 production, heating and dehumidification. For example, a significant part of his electricity use is from circulating fans. Cultivation gurus have always urged growers to use a few fans to create air movement and strengthen stalks. But while a few fans in a growroom of 30 to 40 plants makes perfect sense and is worth the slight increase in utility bills, Mills’s figure of one 18-inch fan for every four plants is way too much—and just this one discrepancy causes a significant increase in the energy use of his theoretical growroom.

Even with this correction, a fully equipped indoor grow (with its own independent air-conditioning and ventilation) still consumes 4,900 kilowatt-hours per year for every four plants. In other words, continuously harvesting four plants under a single 1,000-watt light consumes the same amount of power per year as 11 new refrigerators.

However, recalculating the electricity use of an average growroom using Mills’s template cuts his estimated total emissions nearly in half, from 3,000 pounds of CO2 per pound of cannabis to 1,571 pounds. So how does cannabis really compare to other goods under this scenario? Producing a steak dinner with potatoes and veggies releases 16 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere; producing enough pot for one joint releases 3.4.

Keep in mind that Mills’s estimate for total emissions includes the CO2 released by transporting the pot to its eventual consumers, which he assumes is done entirely by vehicles carrying an average of 5 kilograms at a time. His calculations for transport by car or van lead to the conclusion that delivering all of the cannabis produced in the United States each year releases 355 pounds of CO2 per pound of product—a very significant part of the total emissions. But is Mills so naïve that he doesn’t know that the US Postal Service and Federal Express are actually the primary carriers of cannabis across the country? In fact, the USPS is quite environmentally friendly, releasing an average of 0.8 pounds of CO2 per pound of any package delivered, or 443 times less CO2 than driving 10 pounds of pot in a car that gets 22 miles to the gallon.

So indoor cultivation almost certainly doesn’t pollute the atmosphere anywhere near as much as Mills’s study has led people to believe. Even so, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that outdoor cultivation requires only a fraction of the energy—and produces only a fraction of the carbon emissions—that indoor cultivation does. One way or another, the problem lies with the energy companies that have built their businesses around these contaminating fossil fuels—not with the consumers who plug in.

  1. Sungrown by far. Indoor is more one dimensional . The highs are not as complex and balanced, sungrown cannabis has a different energy to it, smells better, tasted amazing. Thc isn’t everything, in fact it’s not very important to the overall high. I’d rather have good %15 sungrown then 30% Indoor chemically grown buds. Don’t let THC fool you. It’s all about the terpenes and cannabinoids. No one can reproduce the sun.

  2. Outdoor pot is best!! The war on drugs was Nixon’s idea in 70 or 71! Wich means we are a full half century in on plying a failed policy

  3. I’m on the fence on this…I’ve been growing outside for decades…from two to ten plants. This year, I invested in some LED lights of various watts and started them inside from seeds and clones I got from a buddy. I have already tricked 7 out of ten…at various stages of flower. I put two downstairs because I have no room to put them in a dark place until 10AM…what I’ve found, is the two plants under LED lights, which are a month behind the first plant I tricked, seems to be growing at a faster rate…I thought it’d be the other way around…very strange?

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