Growing marijuana indoors could damage environment

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Marijuana Environmental Impact

Sara Johnson talks about a study showing the environmental impact of indoor marijuana growing.

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A recently published independent study from a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory staff scientist shows that growing marijuana indoors may have detrimental effects on the environment - a problem some say is potentially exacerbated by failing to legalize the drug.

Indoor growing of marijuana plants consumes 1 percent of the nation's electricity and produces 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year, according to the study, published April 5 on the personal website of energy analyst and Berkeley lab staff scientist Evan Mills.

"Large-scale industrialized and highly energy-intensive indoor cultivation of cannabis is a relatively new phenomenon, driven by criminalization, pursuit of security and the desire for greater process control and yields," Mills writes in the study.

The study based results on energy consumption data from a generic 4-by-4-by-8 feet production module, which holds about four plants. The study's results are based on factors including high-intensity lighting, heating and air conditioning in these modules, as well as associated transportation energy. One module triples the energy use of an average California home, Mills found.

The study reports indoor cannabis growing consumes 3 percent of California's total electricity and 8 percent of its household electricity. Combined with transportation fuel, this growing costs $5 billion per year nationally.

Scott Zeramby, a collaborator on the study, is president of Mendo Organics, LLC, a supplier of hydroponic equipment - a method of growing plants frequently used in the cultivation of marijuana. He said the study could work against his own business interests, as he could be contributing to an unsustainable industry.

The California Department of Public Health's website states that 51,550 medical marijuana cards have been issued since fiscal year 2004-05 - 3,698 of them in Alameda County.

The study found that the 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or 3 million average American cars, may be preventable.

"Cost-effective efficiency improvements of 75% are conceivable, which would yield energy savings of about $25,000/year for a generic 10-module operation," Mills writes in the study.

The roadblock in energy efficiency may be related to marijuana's illegality, according to Zeramby. In November, California voted against Proposition 19, which would have legalized recreational use for adults 21 years and older.

Zeramby said marijuana growing is considered "the black sheep of agriculture," and does not benefit from modern technology and equipment. He classified individual grow rooms as "disjointed experiments."

Brad Senesac, chief marketing officer of Berkeley Patients Group, a local medical marijuana collective, brought up concerns about the scale of Mills's numbers, stating that they seemed unrealistic compared to actual marijuana use.

"Fiddling with (the study's) assumptions within reasonable limits doesn't really alter the implications of the work," Mills said in an email. "And incorporating feedback from one dispensary would increase the results quite considerably."

The study states that continued research is necessary about the industry's energy impact.

"The opportunity to influence a constructive, climate-friendly response rests with all involved parties," Mills said in an email.


Contact Sara Johnson at [email protected]

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