Last week saw the introduction of two new bills addressing the environmental effects of industrialized indoor cannabis production. Representative Joel Kretz, R- District 7, introduced HB 1990 encouraging the Liquor Control Board (LCB) to adopt rules to give ‘strong preference’ to licensing producers in ‘rural areas in unenclosed, outdoor agricultural lands, as opposed to indoor growing operations’. Kretz also introduced HB 1991 which requires the LCB to consult with the Department of Ecology to evaluate the environmental effects of industrialized cannabis production. Until now, the environmentally negative effects of indoor cannabis production have gone largely ignored. The environmental community has been absent from the conversation and even Governor Inslee seemed to not have considered the environmental impact of industrialized indoor cannabis production when recently asked on a KOUW call-in show. With the LCB adopting a schedule of issuing production licenses in August it appears that the LCB wants to rely on indoor cannabis to supply the states market, it seems that the decision to codify an unsustainable practice developed to avoid detection into policy has been made without consideration of the environmental effects.
True Costs and Environmental Impact of Indoor Cultivation
The environmental cost of indoor cannabis production is staggering. Dr. Evan Mills, in a peer reviewed study published in The Journal of Energy Policy titled “The Carbon Footprint of Indoor Cannabis Production” estimates that 1% of the nation’s electrical power is currently devoted to cannabis production, enough electricity to power 2 million homes and worth 6 billion dollars. He estimates that California uses 3% of its electricity to produce cannabis (9% of household energy), and given that Washington relies heavily on indoor production, it’s likely that Washington uses as much of its power as California does to produce cannabis. This translates into enough power to power 132,000 homes in Washington currently being used to produce cannabis indoors.
In terms of carbon, Mill’s estimates that a single pound of cannabis grown indoors is associated with 4600 pounds of carbon emissions into the atmosphere resulting in 15 million metric tons of carbon produced nationally, or equal to 3 million average US cars. The emission associated with a single pound of indoor grown cannabis is equal to driving a 44-mpg vehicle across the United States 5 times. Producing the LCB estimate of 187,000 pounds is associated with producing carbon equal to 60,000 additional cars in Washington.
It is estimated that to produce the state’s crop using artificial lighting would use 46,000 high intensity discharge bulbs full of mercury, lead, and other contaminants. Not to mention the point source pollution from water run-off from these industrialized grow methods. The environmental effect of cannabis production has not been fully considered, and we welcome Rep. Kretz’s effort to bring attention to the issue and to include the DOE as a stakeholder in the process to evaluate the environmental costs of different cannabis production methods.
We hope that cannabis will be viewed as an agricultural crop with production focused on using environmentally friendly sun grown methods. Unfortunately, issuing licenses in August treat cannabis as an industrial product that can be produced at anytime of the year without regard to the environmental or associated energy costs. The opportunity exists to adopt sustainable production practices which should result in a net environmental benefit by transferring currently unsustainable indoor production to the less energy intensive naturally sun grown cannabis. Rep. Kretz recently wrote a letter to the LCB asking it to re-evaluate its schedule for issuing production licenses and to consider the environmental effects of industrialized cannabis production. Hopefully Rep. Kretz’s bills and letter to the LCB get the conversation started.