Colorado’s Booming Legal Pot Industry ‘Threatens the Environment’

‘A lot of these cultivators are only looking ahead a year or two because the market is so crazy…’

Booming Legal Weed Industry Threatens the Environment

PHOTO: 7raysmarketing (CC) via Flickr

(Lionel Parrott, Liberty Headlines) In Colorado, the cultivation of decriminalized marijuana has become a thriving industry. But at the same time, it represents a threat to the environment due to massive energy usage, says an article from the Colorado Sun.

That’s because growers, to be efficient, must keep their greenhouse lights on for 18 hours straight every day, sapping energy. And since the price for a pound of marijuana has plummeted in recent years, growers have to be efficient just to survive.

“If you aren’t efficient, you aren’t in business anymore,” explained Brian Matthews, general manager of RiNo Supply Co., who says that 85 percent of the energy costs at his greenhouse are from lighting.

These lights tend to make a growing operation 70 times more energy-intensive than the average commercial office building.

And because marijuana plants require cool temperatures, growers try to keep the temperature in a range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. The constant lights make the greenhouses even more humid, requiring massive dehumidifying efforts as well.

Of course, this has put the marijuana industry in conflict with new regulations aimed at sustainability and slowing down climate change. In eco-friendly Boulder County, the goal is to reduce carbon emissions 90 percent by the year 2050.

Unfortunately for the environmentalists’ plans, the state still gets most of its electricity from coal plants, meaning that Colorado cannabis is the most carbon-intensive in the entire country—four times as carbon-intensive as California and five times more than in Oregon.

But the city of Denver, at least, is undeterred. Every year, they hold a “Cannabis Sustainability Symposium,” designed to showcase best practices (some product-swapping may be involved) for efficient energy use in growing marijuana, allowing for the achievement of both goals.

“There is a strong interest in the industry in being sustainable,” said Emily Backus, who works for the city’s Department of Public Health and Environment as a “sustainability adviser.”

The problem: adopting energy efficiency standards is an expensive proposition for growers. That’s because growers have a problem accessing capital, and there’s constant upheaval in the industry. Many operations don’t last long.

Cultivators are “uncomfortable making an investment that pays back in five or six years when they don’t know if they’ll be in business in six years,” Backus explained.

Sustainability advocates would love if cultivators would invest in green energy like solar panels, but that’s an even tougher sell.

Brad Smith, “sustainability outreach adviser” for Boulder County, stated: “There are split incentives because they usually don’t own the buildings, and the timelines for paybacks can be 12 years. A lot of these cultivators are only looking ahead a year or two because the market is so crazy.”

Despite the hurdles, sustainability advocates forecast that the legal weed industry will become more energy efficient over time. Beau Whitney, a senior economist for New Frontier, calls it inevitable.

“Due to its underground nature, people grew this in garages, warehouses, bedrooms—not the most highly efficient way,” he explained. “So, as it gets out into the light, there are more ‘best practices’ being shared, more advanced growing techniques.”

In other words, regardless of what growers are doing now, the future of marijuana is green.