Marijuana Legalization Raises Environmental Concerns

Now that we’ve voted on legalization, the state needs to focus their energies on removing the barriers to market.
11/13/2016 07:48 pm ET Updated Nov 15, 2016
The Associated Press

Society has spoken, and our legal system can no longer ignore the medical and social benefits of legalization. But our legal system is slow moving, with major changes often taking several years for changes to take effect. While policymakers have weighed the pros and cons of legalization in many aspects, there is still one area that needs to be debated - the environmental impact.

Growing Efficiently

In California, it’s now legal for residents to grow up to 6 cannabis plants in their home. While many users would probably prefer to purchase it from a store, it’s going to be a few more years before the legal infrastructure and licensing is in place for this to happen. Until that happens, we’re going to see a lot of small scale indoor growing in California. The problem with this is that small grows are not particularly efficient. Typically, medical cannabis is grown on an industrial scale. At these levels, all of the lights, temperature control, and cooling systems can be made to make effective use of power. But when growers are legally restricted to five or six plants, we’re wasting a lot of energy unnecessarily.

A Matter of Scale

If growers have a lot of money, they can invest in highly efficient LED grow lights. These lights generally produce four times as much marijuana for each watt of power used. Unfortunately, these lights are expensive. This means that most growers cut costs by using inefficient HID bulbs that can drain up to 2000W every hour in a large enough grow. According to the EIA, the average California household uses 901kWh per month. This means that each of these new legal grow rooms could potentially double the power use of the average home.

In 2013, six California lawmakers petitioned the federal government to increase enforcement of the drug policy. Their report specifically cited the environmental impact that small growing operations could have on the environment. Looking back, it’s clear to see that prohibition wasn’t an effective policy. Although we have now legalized cannabis, there are still several legal boundaries that are going to cause environmental issues.

Why We Need Full Deregulation

Now that we’ve voted on legalization, the state needs to focus their energies on removing the barriers to market. Our society is very adept at using the markets to make industry more efficient. With just a simple policy change, industrial grow rooms could be producing high-quality, medical grade cannabis without nearly as much of an environmental impact. Should individuals choose to grow at home, they’d be able to grow on such a scale that energy efficient LED grow lights were cost effective. We may have legalized cannabis, but the very laws designed to protect society are doing more harm than good.

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