The marijuana industry has a lot of room for environmental innovation, but progress on a wide scale can’t be made until cannabis is fully legal.
Marijuana is a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States alone. Yet keeping it largely underground has negatively impacted the environment.
Take for example a study published in 2012 that attributes 1% of U.S. electricity consumption to indoor cannabis grow-ops. According to The Guardian, that’s equal to an energy bill of $6 billion annually, and the CO2 production of 3 million average cars.
The problem is, while regulators have taken great strides towards reducing the environmental impact of many industries, the marijuana industry remains without such oversight. And even if energy efficient equipment could be a cost-cutting investment for marijuana growers, most aren’t focused on the long-term.
In fact, it is just the opposite for those involved with the underground marijuana industry, who are constantly under threat from state and federal law enforcement. Recent studies show that the aggressive spread of outdoor grow-ops in Northern California have led to the destruction of forests, watersheds and local wildlife species.
But there seems to be a simple solution. Legalizing marijuana in Colorado has motivated marijuana growers to start looking at long-term solutions. And that means investing in technology that can cut land, water and energy costs in a sustainable manner.
One of these technologies is LED lights, which consume less energy and give off less heat than traditional lighting systems. Denver’s oldest marijuana dispensary, Denver Relief, is already running tests on LED set-ups, with the hope of implementing the technology on a larger-scale if results are positive.
According to photobiologist Neil Yorio, who spent 20 years at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center studying how to grow plants in controlled environments and currently works at the Florida-based Lighting Science Group, the company that supplies LED lights to Denver Relief, LED technology could save marijuana grow-ops 50% in overall electrical costs.
Nationwide, that could mean $3 billion in annual savings and a reduction in CO2 equal to taking 1.5 million cars off the road. In fact, it could be more. The 2012 study concluded that legalizing marijuana at the federal level would reduce energy consumption up to 75%.
But there’s a flaw to assuming that no one is using LED lights to grow marijuana right now, which Denver Relief has already proven to be false.
Then again, growers in Colorado represent a special case. Because by legalizing marijuana, the state is now providing businesses with the opportunity to look into the future and consider how environmentally-friendly technology could benefit both the legal marijuana industry and the community it serves.