The legalization of marijuana is quickly spreading across the globe. The cannabis industry is one of the fastest-growing in the United States, despite Federal legalization still being in the works. As of 2022, the medical use of cannabis is allowed in the District of Columbia, four territories, and 37 states — including Florida. Additionally, 18 states have also passed bills to regulate its recreational use.
As the industry expands, some may wonder, “Is cannabis sustainable?” As a stand-alone product, cannabis is inherently eco-friendly — with hemp being the most environmentally beneficial cannabis plant variety. But although marijuana has been primarily associated with green movements, the industry has been far from sustainable. Now with the booming cannabis markets (and the growing commercialization of its different products), legislators, producers, distributors, retailers, and consumers must start focusing on moving things in a more eco-conscious direction.
Factors That Make Cannabis Less Sustainable
The cannabis industry is increasingly competitive. Marijuana companies are aiming to introduce new products into the market much faster with little concern about the footprint they leave behind. Some of the prevalent aspects that make cannabis less sustainable are:
Poor Waste Management
Even with cannabis producers trying to keep their growing techniques eco-friendly, waste disposal is often a problem after harvest. Hemp contains a very low percentage of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the cannabis compound that makes you high — which feeds the government’s concerns regarding people rerouting cannabis waste towards illegal production.
Growers need to generate a 50/50 mix of cannabis to non-cannabis waste to disguise their post-harvest residues before they can dispose of them. Alternatively, they can resort to bleaching it with harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, these practices make cannabis fibrous waste ineligible for composting or clean disposal. This means that tons of it end up being incinerated or sent directly to the nearest landfill.
Use of Pesticides
Marijuana growers naturally want to increase crop yields to boost their earnings. To protect their plants from pests and diseases, they often use harsh chemicals, including:
These substances are liberally sprayed onto the crops, seeping into the soil, polluting water supplies, and affecting nearby vegetation. Residues can remain in the plant and potentially harm the consumer’s health. Many pesticides currently used in the cannabis industry have been deemed hazardous by the World Health Organization.
Use of Chemical Fertilizers
Cannabis growers often resort to petrochemical fertilizers to nourish their crops. This is a standard practice in the agricultural industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s environmentally friendly. These chemicals are known for affecting the soil and killing the micro-organisms that make it naturally capable of sustaining life. As a result, its use becomes increasingly unsustainable over time.
Excessive Energy Consumption
Indoor cannabis growth typically requires high-intensity lamps to drive photosynthesis. Unfortunately, these lamps produce a lot of heat, leading farmers to use complex HVAC systems to keep the temperature at an optimal level for cannabis plants to thrive. Consequently, the marijuana industry uses the same amount of energy required to power 1.7 million homes each year.
Water Pollution and Diversion
Each cannabis plant needs up to six gallons of water each day during the growing season from June to October. This means cannabis farms need to store and go through several thousand gallons to meet their daily irrigation needs for about 150 calendar days every year.
Marijuana growers heavily exploit natural water sources and contribute to water scarcity around the country. Also, the aforementioned pesticides and chemical fertilizers used on the crops often end up contaminating freshwater habitats.
Single-use Plastic Packaging
Legislation around cannabis packaging and distribution is strict. It requires products to be resealable, child-proof, and temper-evident. To remain compliant, producers often use single-use plastics for their packaging, adding to the pollution problem that impacts our oceans.
Sustainability Trends in the Cannabis Industry
More and more producers, distributors, and sellers of cannabis are committed to enhancing the industry’s sustainability practices. Here are some of the methods they’re implementing to accomplish this:
Plastic pollution is creating an irreversible impact on the environment. Most of the plastic dumped in the ocean makes its way into the food chain, ultimately affecting human health.
To prevent this, cannabis producers are turning to greener packaging options that use recyclable and even compostable resources. This helps maintain the quality of the product without sacrificing sustainability. Some alternative and more eco-friendly materials for cannabis packaging are:
- Recycled plastics
- Hemp plastics
Regenerative Farming Practices
Cannabis farming tends to be rather abusive on the sowing ground, repeatedly stripping it from its natural nutrients season after season. That’s why marijuana farmers use chemical aid to replenish the soil just enough to maximize crop yields. This practice could result in infertile lands rendered useless for agricultural purposes in the long run.
Regenerative farming helps improve and maintain soil quality through sustainable cannabis planting and harvesting methods, including:
- Choosing the right season to collect
- Rotating cropping spots
- Avoiding chemical fertilizers and unnecessary pesticides
This process prevents nutrient loss and increases the soil’s ability to sustain life without the help of synthetic fertilizers and other harsh compounds.
Use of Greenhouses vs. Indoor Growing (ACE Conservatories)
While associated with higher yields and lower concerns on ecosystem damage, cannabis traditional greenhouses require high external inputs to function. That’s why farmers are actively looking for other indoor growing methods that are more eco-conscious. VidaCann, for example, has implemented ACE conservatories to reduce the environmental impact of growing marijuana and deliver outstanding products.
ACE conservatories allow superior environmental control for sustainable, organic cannabis cultivation. They have translucent walls and ceilings to let natural sunlight in and reduce energy consumption, resulting in plants with unique terpene and cannabinoid profiles. They use state-of-the-art technology to monitor light, temperature, humidity, air movement, plant food, etc.
It might be easy to assume that all things marijuana-related are naturally green — no pun intended. However, cannabis production is a resource-intensive process that can be rather unsustainable. VidaCann wants a greener future for the industry and is going above and beyond to create more sustainable and organic growing and harvesting methods. That’s why we’ve invested a lot of our time and resources in building numerous operational ACE conservatories with hundreds of thousands of square feet of prime growing real estate. If you want to learn more about our facilities, visit our website or any of our Florida dispensaries.