The Not So Green Side of the Cannabis Industry


Cannabis is finally having its day in the sun, so to speak. We are moving into an era where medical cannabis is legal in almost half of the U.S; the authorities who have been against its legalization are seeing the plant through new eyes.

As legalization spreads across the country, more and more growing facilities are popping up. When most of us think about cannabis, the last thing we think about is the environmental impact it is having. The two areas within cannabis cultivation, which are a vacuum of money and resources, are in water and electricity use.

Cannabis legalization in California has put an enormous strain on water resources in a state that has  suffered record droughts. As we move forward with widespread legalization, the cannabis industry needs to take a hard look at its use of resources, particularly in areas like California, Nevada and Arizona, where the local resources are already stretched thin.


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a study on the four watersheds that feed the majority of California’s outdoor cannabis farms in the northern part of the state. These watersheds are also home to a large number of coho salmon. The study determined that the 50,000 estimated pot farms in the state use approximately 22 liters of water per plant per day. Another problem discovered in this region, is the illegal diversion of water resources for cannabis grows. The over use of California’s watershed’s for cannabis production has brought several rivers to record breaking lows. The Van Duzen River, the Eel River, Redwood Creek and Trinity Creek are at historically low levels, yet new cannabis farms pop up every day in the region.

A recent study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory determined that cannabis operation in the United Stated alone, totaled approximately $6 billion per year. That is 1% of the total electricity consumption of the United States. This in turn results in the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of three million cars, or 15m tons.

Although one would think that cannabis is a green industry, the reality is, it is not. The majority of commercial cannabis growers in this country grow indoors, so as to avoid the inconsistencies of nature, like weather and pests. Solar panels could be utilized at every farm to reduce dependence on the grid,bringing down the environmental footprint. However, very few commercial growers have implemented this sustainable technology.

The cannabis industry has been given a free pass to print money. It is no secret that the only people getting into the industry are people with sound financial backing. That being said, too few investors and owners in modern large scale farms think ecologically when designing their business. The implementation of solar panels, or other renewable energies to offset environmental footprint, needs to be a concern for all cannabis entrepreneurs. With vast amounts of water being used, growers need to re-capture their runoff, filter it, and re-use it to cut down on the impact on local water sources.

As more and more states are catching on to and banning the use of certain pesticides, growers are forced to use more environmentally friendly products, which is the first step in making cannabis more green. Perhaps now is the time that the states should be taking a look at the strain cannabis is putting on their resources and regulate their usage accordingly.

Sources: The Guardian, Scientific American.

This article (The Not So Green Side of the Cannabis Industry) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author Alek Hidell and


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  1. lol, what a joke, so nestle can fuck with as much water as they want among many other companies, but these people are watering their plants to much? common people get your priority’s straight

    • Nothing said about the 7 million rounds of golf played in the Phoenix metro area. Curious to know how much water used in Cali. to water their golf courses.

  2. How can one plant use 22 liters of water? Even a plant grown completely hydroponically wouldn’t need that much…

  3. all the pot grow with artificial light has almost the same flavor, the outdoor marijuana it’s hundred times better, with the CA weather i do not understand why use high pressure sodium lights even in summer time


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