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Thursday, September 28, 2023


Growing indoors kills atmosphere

Those advocating for the decriminalization of marijuana presently have only a handful of credible backers, but they may soon gain an unexpected ally in the form of environmentalist groups and conservationists. A recent report coming out of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that clandestine marijuana cultivation uses nearly one percent of the nation’s power supply and dumps an enormous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Forced indoors in order to avoid detection, pot growers rely on artificial lighting and other energy-intensive practices that render marijuana as one of the most environmentally costly crops in the country. Such methods could be avoided if growers were granted the legal right to farm marijuana openly without fear of prosecution. Grown in a more traditional manner, marijuana’s ecological impact would be greatly curtailed, making weed far more “green.” Although these factors alone do not form a compelling argument for the decriminalization of pot, they certainly add to the growing list of reasons favoring a change in our drug policy and are an easy target for environmental reformers.

Financially speaking, marijuana is this country’s largest cash crop. With a value of close to $40 billion annually according to, pot easily surpasses the $23 billion a year for corn and $17 billion a year for soybeans. But unlike plants grown for legal purposes, marijuana must be grown secretively and in highly unnatural settings. The lighting, ventilation and irrigation systems needed to sustain indoor plant growth end up costing several billion dollars in extra energy expenditures per year according to a report done by Evan Mills, a staff scientist at The University of California. By factoring in these operational costs, Mills estimated that present day marijuana growers use the same amount of energy as 2 million household homes. As a result, the production of one kilogram of marijuana equates to about 3,000 kilograms of CO2. Again for comparison, one kilogram of soybeans nets a meager 0.26kg of CO2. Essentially, current drug laws are promoting the needless destruction of the planet. Mills estimated that if it were legal to grow cannabis, energy efficiency in its production would improve by 75 percent or more.

In an attempt to construct an inclusive assessment of both environmental and economic costs, researchers considered indirect expenditures associated with marijuana cultivation as well. Damage to buildings due to electrical fires and improperly installed irrigation systems adds a significant amount to the cost of indoor pot growing. Air quality also takes a hit, with one kilogram of weed producing the equivalent emissions of driving across the country five times. These values dwarf any amounts that are produced by merely smoking the drug.

This study is premised on the fact that marijuana will continue to be grown whether or not it is legal to do so. Obviously, current drug policies are doing little to curtail the growing of cannabis. So as marijuana production continues unabated, draconian laws are causing substantial economic and environmental harm. It is unlikely that the societal impact of legalizing marijuana would be more damaging than the ecological effects of sustaining its criminalization. If disputed that claims of pot’s medicinal value do not sway lawmakers, then perhaps the added incentive of saving the planet might.

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