Enviros freaked by marijuana industry’s huge CO2 footprint

Analysts and state regulators say the cannabis industry — including states that have legalized recreational pot and those that offer it only for medicinal purposes — is outpacing many other areas of the economy in energy use, racking up massive electricity bills as more and more Americans light up.

“The basic issue is the lighting intensity inside these grow facilities is much, much higher than anything else. They like these facilities brighter than an operating room,” said Ron Flax, the chief building official in Boulder County, Colorado, who spearheads one of the nation’s leading programs designed to incentivize weed producers to cut their power use.

The county’s Marijuana Energy Impact Offset Fund, which tacks on a 2.16-cent surcharge for each kilowatt-hour of electricity used by growing facilities, is something of a model for other states, cities, and counties that also recognize the growing energy drain that has resulted from the rapid expansion of legal cannabis.

Data show the issue, often lost beneath the societal and medical arguments around pot, deserves attention.

Recent estimates show that indoor cannabis cultivation racks up as much as $6 billion each year in energy costs. Pot produced indoors can use as much as 5,000 kilowatt-hours of energy to produce 1 kilogram of product output, according to research compiled by RenewableEnergyWorld.com.

The $6 billion-per-year figure is equivalent to about 1.7 million American homes and is about 1 percent of total national electricity consumption. The annual greenhouse gas pollution from the indoor cannabis industry is equivalent to that of about 3 million cars, said Evan Mills, an energy analyst and research affiliate at the University of California at Berkeley.

Indoor cultivation is estimated to spew as much as 15 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year — though some industry analysts say that data point and others are incomplete and premature and that it’s too early to truly capture the carbon footprint of the fledgling sector.

It’s also unclear how the Justice Department’s approach to marijuana laid out by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week could affect the industry and, by extension, the amount of energy it uses. Mr. Sessions rescinded Obama-era policies spelling out a hands-off approach from the federal government toward states with legal recreational pot.

Still, current energy-use projections are eye-popping.

In California, for example, which produces more pot than any other state in the nation, Mr. Mills said indoor pot growing accounts for about 3 percent of all electricity use in the state.

Figures in other states are similar — and those numbers almost surely will go even higher if the Justice Department doesn’t shut down the sector.

Seven states and the District of Columbia now allow recreational marijuana use, and four — California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada — passed ballot measures in November allowing non-medical consumption. With those legalizations will come massive production explosions.

Nearly two dozen other states allow weed only for medical use.

Analysts say energy use across the marijuana industry varies wildly, with indoor grow sites responsible for massive electricity drains and outdoor locations carbon-free.

“At one end of the spectrum, cannabis is cultivated outdoors exclusively relying on the sun’s energy for its full life cycle. In this model, there is no draw from the power grid,” said Brittny Anderson, director of operations at the Cannabis Conservancy, an organization that certifies growers that eliminate waste, conserve energy and take other steps to operate more environmentally friendly practices.

“On the other end of the spectrum, cannabis is cultivated exclusively indoors in a poorly designed facility using inefficient equipment, no scheduling optimization and is powered by coal,” she said. “This type of facility’s energy consumption is of major concern and contributes to climate change.”

In Boulder County, Mr. Flax said, a key problem was that growers found it difficult to track how much energy they were using and, from a comparative point of view to other industries, whether they were energy-efficient. He said the county government’s program helped roll out monitoring tools to better capture energy use.

“There was this general consensus that growers were using too much energy, and it’s sort of like being told you’re driving too fast, but without a speedometer, it’s tough to know how much energy you’re using,” he said. “Even growers that were motivated and very interested in reducing their energy, they really didn’t have the tools to do that effectively.”

On a broader scale, the Resource Innovation Institute — a Portland, Oregon-based organization comprised of leaders in energy and climate policy, utility conservation, and other areas — recently launched the website CannabisPowerScore.org, which lets growers anonymously submit data to assess their energy use.

Derek Smith, the institute’s founder and executive director, said the site will provide critical information for utilities and growers, especially as legal cannabis spreads to other states. He also contends that much of the energy-use data that is widely cited should be taken with a grain of salt.


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Comments (4)

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    Who asked the government how to produce marijuana ? Scatter some pot seeds and the world will have too much of it, drive the price to zero and clog parking lots with tumbleweed. Bird seed companies would be put out of business.
    Canada’s first try at growing medical marijuana was underground in a bomb shelter in Manitoba. Apparently government marijuana dies when exposed to sunlight. In the sixties pot was called Mother Nature.
    So they want total control. All profits will be taxed. Grow it outside under the sky, behind some razor wire fence and there will be lots of profit to tax.


  • Avatar

    Spurwing Plover


    I have been and always will be opposed to legalized dope


  • Avatar



    Does anyone seriously think the people currently selling dope are not just going to move up the drug food chain ? Free heroin samples
    for Grade 6 ers . The government just sees the money and once hooked on it all drugs will be legal . Think of it as a population control strategy like fuel poverty deaths justified to save the planet .


  • Avatar

    David Lewis


    I am certainly no friend of marijuana. When ever I was at a party and pot was lit up I was out of there quite literally less than 60 seconds. I voted against legalization. However, we have to put the energy use in perspective. Any new industry is going to use energy. I don’t have the figures but don’t need them to know the energy increase by the electronics revolution was huge. Health clubs have become more common and require energy. The pot industry is no different from other new industries.

    By the way, the plants in that picture do not look anything like the marijuana plants that I have seen. My wife’s relatives in Nebraska have significant stands of weed (marijuana) growing as a weed and they have to kill it so they are not accused of growing it on purpose. Perhaps this is way liberals don’t like Round Up.


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