It’s no secret that energy-hungry indoor grows have a heavy environmental cost. In Canada, it is estimated that cannabis cultivation ate up the same amount of energy as 1.7 million homes — and that figure comes from 2017, before the country’s federal legalization of marijuana.
At least one company is taking steps towards addressing the problem. Freedom Cannabis, which is expecting its first crop this December, has installed what representatives describe as one of the largest solar operations in the country, comprised of 4,574 solar modules equipped to produce at best, 1,830 kilowatts, an offset of 1,041 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Freedom has also installed a system to recycle 80 percent of the water employed by the company’s agricultural process.
“It is our responsibility to recognize our industry’s impact on the environment and work to do everything we can to minimize it,” said the company’s co-founder and executive director Troy Dezwart. He added that cannabis is one of the world’s most energy intensive industries, and that by installing the solar panels, Freedom will be saving money.
Saving Energy Comes at a High Cost
But though the vast solar installation certainly makes sense for our planet’s bottom line, its effect on the company’s may not be as positive, given a cursory glance at the numbers. The total installation ran Freedom Cannabis $2.5 million, but will account for only an estimated $300,000 savings off its power bill for the first year. (That installation cost, however, was offset by a $1 million grant from Energy Efficiency Alberta.) The solar panels will account for eight percent of the building’s overall energy consumption.
Canada requires its legal marijuana companies to produce their crops indoors, necessitating creativity when it comes to cutting costs — particularly if they are to compete with the country’s still-present illegal industry, where an estimated 70 percent of cannabis is grown outdoors.
It’s not the only country where the cannabis industry needs to take steps to reduce its environmental impact. In the United States, it is estimated that in 2017 the legal cannabis industry consumed the equivalent energy of 92,500 homes, and generated 472,000 tons of electricity-related carbon. Research agency New Frontier Data forecasts that between 2017 and 2022, legal cannabis company energy consumption will increase by 162 percent.
The problem is not limited to indoor grows. In California, studies have shown that outdoor grows have disrupted wildlife habitats, particularly trespass grows that have been constructed on pristine public and tribal lands.
Some of the response to legal cannabis’ pollution problem has been taken on by government regulatory agencies. In New Mexico, one of the most recent U.S. states to regulate recreational marijuana, a government committee has been established to hammer out regulations, including rules regarding water usage by companies.
In Michigan, the state’s marijuana regulatory agency has determined regulations regarding everything from water usage to air quality and solid waste disposal for cannabis companies.
Some cannabis companies have also launched their own initiatives to minimize their footprint. Some of these have focused on excess cannabis packaging, which is often required by government regulations to reduce the risk of kids accessing marijuana products. In Washington, one dispensary chain has created a marijuana waste recycling program, complete with customer incentives.