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BY Emma Grace
For the generations of yesteryear, pot was synonymous with tree-hugging hippies. Way back in the 60s and 70s, it seemed like everyone who touched cannabis was a staunch defender of mother nature, barefoot in the grass or skinny-dipping in alpine lakes.
But today, your average Joe is the most typical stoner. Cannabis enthusiasts are no longer intertwined with true huggers, and so education about weed’s impact on the environment has taken a hit.
Does growing marijuana impact the environment? Like all things that humans do, especially on a large scale, the answer is yes. Indoor growth can ramp up energy costs, and outdoor growth can sap water supplies in already fragile ecosystems.
Don’t worry, though! There are ways to make cannabis growth more environmentally-friendly, which we’ll be covering later in this article.
The indoor/outdoor debate has been around for a long time--there are pros and cons to both methods of large-scale growing. Here’s the gist on outdoor growing:
Weed needs to be grown in dry/warm climates, like the southwestern U.S. However, that requires a lot of water, which can impact the environment and help perpetuate droughts. A single cannabis plant can require more than 6 gallons of water a day through the growing season (which is nearly half the year). All that water adds up, especially in an area that is already dry. Plus, it can make your product more expensive, since water is getting pricy these days.
BUT, outdoor growers save a ton of electricity by not needing solar lights, dehumidifiers, etc. That means less of a carbon footprint, which is great news for the environment.
So that’s the deal with outdoor growth. What about large-scale indoor growing?
Indoor growing requires a lot more electricity, because growers need solar lights, AC units, dehumidifiers, etc. In fact, cannabis uses the most energy of any crop in the U.S. A lot of this could be mitigated by using green energy sources like solar, hydro, or wind, but a lot of facilities just don’t have the resources yet. As green energy becomes more prevalent in everyday life, we hope to see the cannabis industry turn even greener!
The main perk of indoor growing is efficiency. With a regulated environment, growers don’t have to place any faith in mother nature--they know their product will turn out perfect. This helps keep pricing down, and reduces the risk of a spike in cost due to a lost crop.
So, which is better for the environment? That’s a pretty subjective question, since both indoor and outdoor growth can have negative impacts. In my cannabis-loving, non-scientist opinion, I would say that outdoor growing is overall better for the environment. Of course, we’re talking large-scale operations here--feel free to grow your own weed at home!
Okay, now that all that scary stuff is out of the way, here are a couple of ways that cannabis plants are actually good for the environment:
Cannabis absorbs a ton of carbon dioxide. Cannabis plants are actually twice as efficient as trees at reducing CO2 in the atmosphere, which is one of the leading causes of climate change.
It’s a natural soil cleaner. Cannabis plants are able to accumulate a ton of contaminants in soil—think of waste from fertilizers, pesticides, and general human ick. Weed is sturdy enough to take in a lot of those toxins without dying, which makes it a natural soil de-toxifier.
It can be used for more than getting high. Hemp (weed’s industrial cousin) can be used for paper, clothing, and even as a substitute for plastic. While it has low levels of THC and other cannabinoids, hemp can be used in creams, lotions, and other products. Plus, it’s good for the environment, so it’s good in my book!
If there’s one thing that all human beings share in common, it’s that we live on the planet Earth. Unless the people at NASA start putting us on Mars, like, tomorrow, we’re all gonna be living here for a while. While large corporations are responsible for the majority of environmental issues, there are some things we can do to make our weed consumption better for mother nature.
Grow your own weed. Large-scale growing uses up more energy and resources, whether it’s indoor or outdoor. One of the best ways you can help the planet (and your own wallet) is by growing your own cannabis, especially if you grow it outside.
Make your own edibles. Edibles, in particular, come in a ton of child-proof plastic packaging. By making your own edibles, you can eliminate that single-use plastic, keeping it out of landfills. Plus, you can get creative in the kitchen—who doesn’t love that when they have the munchies?
Buy rechargeable batteries with carts, instead of buying disposable pens. If you don’t like smoking joints, then you’re probably familiar with carts/pens. One way to help conserve plastic/glass is to buy a rechargeable battery with interchangeable carts. Buying disposables leads to more waste, and it’s also not as good for your wallet.
Buy your weed from eco-friendly companies. More and more brands are making the shift to eco-friendly packaging, using materials like wood pulp and 100% recycled fiber. Thank goodness, too, because all that single-use plastic from cannabis products can really add up! Check out these eco-friendly cannabis bands and make the shift ASAP (Mama Earth will thank you!)
Like all things we do as people on the planet, our cannabis consumption impacts the environment. By taking personal steps to reduce our carbon footprint, we can help create change. Of course, a lot of the issues come from large-scale growing, and those problems are harder to solve, but baby steps, people!
And don’t let climate-change-doomsday news get you down. The earth is still spinning, we’re still on it, and the weed is still growing. So stay happy, stay toasty, and go hug a tree!
Emma Grace is a lifelong writer, reader, and lover of the outdoors. She enjoys hiking and gardening, and hopes to someday grow her own cannabis plants. When she isn’t ignoring her college assignments in favor of exploring the great outdoors of upstate NY, you can find her holed up in a coffee shop or the campus library. Currently, she is making plans to publish her debut YA novel, Match, and takes pride in savoring every second that life has to offer.