Though legalization of marijuana for recreational use is already controversial, the environmental impacts of growing indoors are often overlooked.

Though legalization of marijuana for recreational use is already controversial, the environmental impacts of growing indoors are often overlooked.

On November 8, 2016, Massachusetts residents by a 200,000 vote margin elected to become one of eight states, along with the District of Columbia, to legalize recreational marijuana. Prospects for the marijuana industry are booming. In addition to these eight states, there are also 28 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. There are many objections to legalized pot from lawmakers, health experts, and parents alike. These include the well-documented health threats and associated economic costs of pot smoking, including higher risk of lung disease and cancer, heart problems, pregnancy complications, mood disorders, and mental impairment including paranoia, hallucinations, and decreased intelligence scores.

Not only does the legalization of marijuana pose a looming health crisis, other negative impacts that are too often overlooked include the long term energy and pollution costs of growing marijuana and the implications for climate change. With Massachusetts working to become a clean energy leader in the U.S., it’s time for lawmakers to tackle the next step of regulating how marijuana is grown.

Making indoor growing more efficient

According to a report by Evan Mills, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the estimated energy consumption of cultivating marijuana in a controlled environment contributes to one percent of U.S. electricity use per year, or $6 billion. That report was published in 2012, however, and with more and more states legalizing marijuana each year, the electricity use is sure to increase.

In a report published by the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, Colorado has been a leader taking steps to make sure that marijuana is grown sustainably, with the city of Boulder, for example, requiring that indoor marijuana cultivators power their operations via 100 percent renewable energy sources.

The report goes on to address how indoor marijuana growing actually has become more energy efficient now that it has become legalized, but much more progress is needed.

The reason for high emission levels, according the report, is that when growers try to produce indoors in a state where marijuana isn’t legal, they have to use diesel gasoline generators or even stolen electricity to avoid being caught. Once it is legalized, growers don’t need to use off the grid methods, but there are still substantial greenhouse gas emissions, since approximately 67 percent of the electricity from the grid is made by burning fossil fuels.

Some may ask, why not just grow pot outside or use greenhouses powered by solar energy? While this is a completely reasonable question, growers usually look to grow indoors because they create near ideal conditions that boost yield and quality. But according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, the energy required for a single household to grow just four plants, as is legal now in Massachusetts, could require as much electricity as 29 refrigerators.

This does not mean that marijuana cannot be grown inside, but rather that cultivators must be extremely cognizant of the lights they are using. With LED light prices lower than they have ever been, lawmakers could experiment with only allowing certain type of lights to be used for growing marijuana. For example, Heliospectra LED grow lights tout that their lights “have the potential to reduce the energy consumption in your grow operation by up to 50 percent.”

While currently there are only medical dispensaries in Mass. that can industrially grow marijuana, as lawmakers look ahead to January 2018 when commercial recreational businesses can officially open their doors, regulations will also need to be in place about how to grow more for the increased number of stores energy efficiently.

Yet there is little to no discussion of how marijuana will be grown in the Northeast of this country. Surely it will be difficult for marijuana growers to grow outdoors with the harsh winters that Massachusetts faces ever year.

Lawmakers and activists have an opportunity here to put their differences aside about how marijuana should be legally eased into society. But there is no time to waste about how the marijuana is grown. With examples from Colorado and Washington, Massachusetts should put into place laws requiring growers to keep their energy costs under certain amounts in order to ensure a green state with legalized marijuana.

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