How the U.S. Can Produce Cannabis More Sustainably

For being the good green herb, marijuana isn’t particularly friendly to the environment. In most states, psychoactive cannabis is grown in greenhouses, which demand extreme amounts of energy for lights, watering systems, ventilation and more. In places where cannabis is grown outside, farmers tend to be liberal with pesticides, which can poison the surrounding environment and even impact the cultivation of nearby non-cannabis crops.

Fortunately, cannabis doesn’t have to be so environmentally devastating to grow. Already, some cannabis farms in the U.S. are demonstrating that applying organic and sustainable practices can be a great success. Here are some strategies for raising a truly green cannabis crop:

Grow Outside Whenever Possible

There is a reason that food staples like corn, rice and wheat typically aren’t grown in greenhouses: It is much more efficient to grow them in open air. The Earth and sun provide the essentials for plants to grow; various processes ensure that soil has the right nutrients, that water flows to plant roots and that there is enough light to give plants energy. Considering that cannabis grows relatively quickly and does not require intensive care to thrive, outdoor growing is easily the most sustainable option for the marijuana industry.

Of course, there are caveats. For example, in northern climes like Washington state, outdoor cannabis growers are faced with challenges like a long winter and brief summer, which essentially limits them to one crop per year. Additionally, some regions are too humid or too hot to grow cannabis successfully outside a greenhouse. The best solution for this is to decriminalize (or, better yet, legalize) marijuana at the federal level to allow growers to concentrate in the best regions for their crop. Then, growers can benefit from optimal outdoor environments and ship their goods to places less suited to marijuana cultivation, like Arkansas dispensaries.

Then there is the issue of pesticides. Cannabis is naturally pest- and mold-resistant thanks to its terpenes and cannabinoids, but unfortunately, clones and some cannabis varieties are more susceptible to devastating infestations. Ideally, growers should use only small amounts of pesticide; enough to keep pests at bay but not so much that the chemicals leach into the surrounding environment. Because pesticides can be removed from the final product, this isn’t dangerous for weed consumers. However, more conscientious weed growers should look into truly organic pest management solutions, like neem, kelp, garlic and bone meal.

Use Renewable Energy for Greenhouses

Transitioning to fully outdoor cannabis growing will require abandoning fully functioning greenhouses that keep crops safe and facilitate fast, strong growth. Therefore, a more attractive option to many indoor growers is renewable energy, which makes their operation more sustainable while allowing growers to continue controlling their crop’s environment.

Unfortunately, in only six states does more than half of all available energy come from renewable resources. Thus, most greenhouse growers will need to erect their own renewable energy tools, like solar panels and wind turbines — and doing so is a major investment. Few grow operations have the capital available to install the network of power generation equipment necessary for the energy greenhouses consume.

Instead, the cannabis community should band together with environmentalists in pushing state and federal lawmakers to invest in renewable energy. Then, the high energy consumption of greenhouses will be less concerning and merely an element of a green and sustainable energy system.

Think Critically About Cannabis Waste

Both indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation produces a large amount of waste, both organic and non-organic. However, instead of managing their waste responsibly, many growers opt to add their waste to landfills and commit to similar environmentally-ruinous-but-convenient solutions.

Fortunately, there are several ways to minimize waste production and dispose of waste conscientiously. For one, growers should avoid products that utilize single-use plastics. Instead of growing cannabis in plastic containers, for example, growers might construct sturdier, reusable containers from wood or concrete or else plant their crop directly in the ground. For organic waste, grow operations should look into third-party waste management companies, like GAIACA, which is the first and best at managing cannabis waste in a sustainable way.

Cannabis growers should take inspiration from the organic and sustainable farms around the country. By committing to pro-environmental practices, cannabis cultivation can continue uninterrupted and unaffected by changing environmental regulation, and cannabis users can take full advantage of the good herb without green guilt.