Let’s be blunt – drugs drain resources. Regardless of opinion or stance on marijuana, one thing is certain; marijuana requires an extraordinary amount of energy to grow. Since marijuana is illegal in most of the United States, weed growers must grow indoors or underground and create their own artificial ecosystem, harvesting multiple crops year-round. Production and trafficking consumes money, energy, and water. Marijuana is the greatest offender of wasting megawatts. According to a 2011 study of indoor pot-growing operations, growers in the United States use about $5 billion worth of electricity to power light bulbs, ventilation fans, dehumidifiers, and other appliances to mimic outdoor growing conditions. That is one percent of national electricity consumption, and the equivalent to the output of seven large electrical power plants. Evan Mills, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, performed a study on the energy drain of indoor marijuana growing independently. According to Mills, smoking a single joint is worth two pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and processed cannabis results in 3,000 times its weight in CO2 emissions. Light up? Smoking a joint is equal to running a 100-watt bulb for about 30 hours on the California grid. Our society has created a monster since advocating the benefit of hemp and its many by-products in textiles, bio plastics, bio fuels, paper, building materials and more.
Marijuana is considered the nation’s largest cash crop, estimated at about $40 billion annually in production value. Cultivation for medical marijuana is legal in 17 states, leading to legal restrictions steadily relaxing in recent years. Energy savings could be substantial, especially in California, where about 400,000 people are licensed to grow marijuana for personal medical use or to sell to dispensaries. Indoor cultivation is responsible for a massive 8 percent of household electricity usage, costing about $3 billion yearly and producing the annual carbon emission of a million average cars, says Mills.
Law enforcement is on the lookout for illegal grow operations, and the electricity drain hasn’t been overlooked. Chris Jakim, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said tracking the electricity use of suspected growers is just one tool the agency uses to build cases. To avoid detection and high energy bills, many growers steal electricity, by tapping into the main line to circumvent the meter which is very dangerous. Some growers opt to go off-grid and it is not necessarily a greener choice. It requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators. Marijuana plants also require three to five gallons of water per day, an exponential drain on water supply.
Prohibition and the helicopter raids of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting have chased pot growers indoors. Some local leaders in the medical marijuana movement have begun to urge the industry to grow cannabis outdoors, in the soil and sunlight, just like the rest of the state’s crops. The study by Mills does not condone or pass judgment on cannabis cultivation, rather, is shining light on the inefficient production practices. Mills proposes that energy use for indoor production could be dramatically reduced, with cost-effective efficiency improvements of up to 75%. He also suggests that by shifting cultivation use outdoors, certain aspects of energy consumption would be eliminated (although other environmental impacts might be imposed instead).
Growing in greenhouses is becoming the future of the industry. Cannabis gets natural sunlight that reduces energy dependence, while growing conditions can be controlled much like growing indoors. Another green option is using solar panels and clean, renewable energy to power indoor production or any energy needed in greenhouse production. Indoor or outdoor, for or against marijuana legalization, more eco responsible choices that lead to decreased energy consumption are important.
(Image courtesy of Seattle Times)