Legalization of cannabis has undoubtedly been a good thing. Legalization is bringing hidden economies out of the dark, and an entire generation of cannabis enthusiasts are trying on entrepreneurship or gainfully employed with benefits. I recently listened to a passionate speech about the importance of organic cannabis. So it was a shock to discover that legal cannabis, rather than being part of a green future, is going to set us back by being an energy hog.
Reading websites and shareholder reports I discovered “cultivation” is totally unlike any other agriculture. Company web pages and shareholder reports actually boast about “controlled environment”; the cannabis is grown without any input from nature. Really, these companies are legal replicas of illegal underground bunkers.
Bunkers are not the only way to grow cannabis. Cannabis can be grown in lit greenhouses where the sun can provide most of the lighting and the heat. It can be grown in a traditional greenhouse, which extends the natural growing season, using a small amount of heat to prevent freezing. And like 90% of our food crops, it could be grown outdoors. Remember these are not winter tomatoes, shipped fresh to the store. The final product is dried so there’s no special value in having a plant mature in January.
Bunkers use almost twice the electricity of lit greenhouses and twenty times that of a traditional greenhouse. It’s worth noting that there are some environmental improvements over illegal bunkers. Growers are limited to chemicals considered safe for consumption. 100% of illegal-bunker heat, lights, and ventilation fans were run by propane generators. Now legal bunkers can use grid electricity: if your electricity is primarily hydropower, even better.
Some growers recognize the problem. Freedom Cannabis (bunker cultivation), outside Edmonton, Canada, has built a solar array which produces 1.8 gigawatts. Unfortunately that is a drop in the bucket: 1.8 gigawatts covers 8% of its power needs.
There are tools for improving energy efficiency: Cannabis PowerScore allows growers to enter details (anonymously so it won’t affect your stock price) and show where you could apply energy efficiency improvements. However, it benchmarks you to similar growers, so it doesn’t change the basic fact that bunker-grown cannabis uses a lot more electricity than greenhouse or outdoor cultivation. Consumers need a different handle on energy use: preferably energy per ounce of dried weed.
Bunker-grown cannabis uses a lot more electricity
As a consumer, if you shop farmer’s markets or buy organic, you should know how your weed is grown. If you can smoke weed from a traditional greenhouse or lit greenhouse (lit, get it?) then your cannabis will be in line with your values. Better yet, grow your own outdoors. The “Golden Mile” of the British Columbia Kootenays had a reputation throughout North America of producing the best cannabis. That’s outdoor cultivation and good for the planet.
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About Kristy Dyer:
Kristy Dyer has a background in art and physics and consulted for Silicon Valley clean energy firms before moving (happily!) to sunny Penticton. Comments to Kristy.Dyer+BP@gmail.com