A task force in Oregon is studying the environmental problems associated with marijuana production, especially with the energy and water use issues. According to the task force, Oregon's cannabis industry would do well to pay more attention to how the local growers use natural resources.
The task force consists of lawmakers, agency representatives, and growers. Later this summer, they are making a list of recommendation to the Legislature. They want the state to do more to educate cannabis growers about agricultural practices and rules that can help treat the environment with more care and respect.
It currently seems that most growers are interested in using energy efficiently, but the information on how to do this is not widely available. The question of efficient energy use is especially vital for indoor cannabis producers, as this way of growing requires a lot of electricity. A power-hungry indoor cannabis growing operation can impose a significant load on the regional power grid.
John Morris, a founder of the Resource Innovation Institute, says that indoor weed production in Colorado comprises approximately two percent of the state's electrical load. What's more, approximately 45 percent of the new load currently coming online is the load created by indoor cannabis gardens.
Energy-saving techniques may both help protect the environment and reduce the price of the cannabis products, as energy makes up about 45 percent of the cost associated with growing cannabis.
At the same time, the issue of saving water is significantly less pronounced. The amount of water that growers use for one plant depends on too many different factors and may vary from one to nine gallons.
Some residents of Oregon urged the task force to pay closer attention to water use as it affects coho salmon population. Excessive water use for cannabis fields in southern Oregon, as well as the use of pesticides, may lead to a fish runoff.
Morris is ready to offer energy and water certification to those growers who grow cannabis according to certain standards.
Mowgli Holmes, the chief scientific officer at Phylos Bioscience, said that the burgeoning cannabis industry lacks "baseline information" on agricultural practices. It is impossible to develop state policy without “baseline information,” however, the state can meanwhile nudge the industry to pay more attention to the practices and techniques that can save energy.
According to Holmes, if the growers shift away from indoor production that is famous for its energy waste, and go for outdoor growing or greenhouse operation, it can drastically change the situation. Even a simple implementation of energy-efficient fluorescent lamps or LED-based lighting systems can drastically reduce the power consumption. But it is not easy to incentivize growers to do some specific things to increase the energy efficiency of cannabis growing if you do not know what exactly they are doing now.
The best way to improve energy efficiency is, of course, to switch from indoor gardens to large-scale outdoor fields. There is, however, another obstacle here. Despite outdoor production already being quite common in southern Oregon, a lot of weed connoisseurs nevertheless prefer to buy the indoor product. This may be a purely psychological point, though. For example, Jared Watters, a southern Oregon grower and a task force member, says that he knows some Portland dispensaries that sell outdoor marijuana as indoor flowers, and consumers notice no difference.
The reason is probably the reputation of outdoor cannabis: after years of growing marijuana secretly indoor, people believe that this way of growing is the most efficient one. But Watters insists that 100 percent sunlight-grown cannabis actually has better quality.