The Problem with Legal Weed: Its Carbon Footprint! [with comment by Paul]

There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of our headlong rush to legalize recreational use of marijuana, especially the increased potency of marijuana products in recent years (this is not your hippie father’s weed!), to new research that it has serious effects on cognitive functions, and possible real psychological harm.

But what’s the real reason people are having second thoughts about marijuana legalization? It’s not compatible with energy efficiency! It has a high (so to speak) carbon footprint! The horror!

From the New England Climate Change Review:

Massachusetts’ marijuana boom is bad news for the state’s energy efficiency efforts

. . . Not only does the legalization of marijuana pose a looming health crisis, other negative impacts that are too often overlooked include the long term energy and pollution costs of growing marijuana and the implications for climate change. With Massachusetts working to become a clean energy leader in the U.S., it’s time for lawmakers to tackle the next step of regulating how marijuana is grown.

According to a report by Evan Mills, a staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the estimated energy consumption of cultivating marijuana in a controlled environment contributes to one percent of U.S. electricity use per year, or $6 billion. That report was published in 2012, however, and with more and more states legalizing marijuana each year, the electricity use is sure to increase. . .

The reason for high emission levels, according the report, is that when growers try to produce indoors in a state where marijuana isn’t legal, they have to use diesel gasoline generators or even stolen electricity to avoid being caught. Once it is legalized, growers don’t need to use off the grid methods, but there are still substantial greenhouse gas emissions, since approximately 67 percent of the electricity from the grid is made by burning fossil fuels.

Don’t bogart that solar panel, my friend. . .

PAUL ADDS: As I understand it, pot is also a massive consumer of water. This is problematic in a state like California, which has experienced droughts in recent years.

By the way, a leader of California’s marijuana industry has warned that the state’s cannabis growers produce eight times the amount of pot consumed in the state. Growers are expected to cut back production. Some will send their cannabis to other states, a practice that is barred by federal law and soon will be barred by new state regulations, according to the Times.