Republican Congressmen Push for Environmental Impact Study on Cannabis

Two GOP congressmen have issued a letter to four major cabinet heads urging lawmakers to study the environmental impacts of growing cannabis before Congress continues to discuss legalization initiatives.

Congressmen Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) touted statistics from several studies, one of which were over ten years old, in an attempt to portray cannabis as an environmentally unfriendly plant, framing their argument around increasing competition for energy and the high amounts of electricity and water cannabis plants use compared to other agricultural crops.

“The demand for prioritizing electricity uses and for increased energy efficiency is a growing concern for the American public,” the letter said. “It is essential that the nation understand the burden marijuana cultivation puts on the electrical grid and the environment.”

The letter contained many troubling statistics, some of which appeared to be based on outdated growing technology. For instance, it is said in the letter that a four-plant module uses as much electricity as 29 refrigerators, which does not quite add up when you consider a household refrigerator uses anywhere from 100-250 watts of electricity (according to a cursory Google search) and most commercial growers use 1000 watt high-pressure sodium lights if they have not already switched to the newer LED models that use about 300 watts. Not to mention, some growers place upwards of 10 plants under a light, so that information is a bit arbitrary in the first place.

The letter also espoused that “annual cannabis cultivation electricity demand will grow 65% during the next decade.” However, this does not take into account that if marijuana were legalized on a federal level and interstate cannabis trade were opened, many cannabis companies would opt to move from an indoor grow model to an outdoor grow model.

The letter, addressed to the respective heads of the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Energy Information Administration, can be found here. The congressmen asked for responses to the following questions by November 30:

  • How does current marijuana legalization impact state energy consumption and emission levels?
  • How would federal legalization of marijuana affect national energy consumption and emission levels?
  • What is the anticipated growth of energy usage and emissions from the marijuana industry?
  • How will growing energy demands from the marijuana industry affect the reliability of our electric grid?
  • What impact do illegal marijuana growing operations have on the country’s water supply?
  • What harms do illegal marijuana growers’ use of various fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides pose to wildlife, habitats, and humans in the United States?

A recent study published in early 2021 found that cannabis still uses a small amount of water relative to other agricultural crops, and that with proper planning and policy cannabis does not have to be a strain on the environment even when grown at mass scale. The study made the following policy recommendations to ensure cannabis legalization does not result in an added strain on the environment:

  1. Land use: as cannabis has traditionally been grown in environmentally-sensitive areas, planning could minimize negative environmental impacts linked to cannabis expansion.
  2. Water use: cannabis is often grown in areas where managing the timing and location of water extraction is crucial for the environment.
  3. Pesticide use: human exposure pathways for pesticide residues on cannabis are unique, as they may be inhaled at high temperatures or ingested. It is thus essential that pesticide controls go beyond those of normal agriculture.
  4. Energy use: incentivizing best practices could reduce energy footprints of indoor and mixed-light cannabis cultivation.
  5. Air pollution: prioritizing science-based best practices could reduce air pollution and air quality impacts.

More details on these policy recommendations can be found at the full study here.

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