Cultivating a Greener Marijuana Economy in Massachusetts

by Karen Heymann

As state policymakers hit the pause button on some aspects of the new marijuana law, they should also consider ways to address the heavy electricity consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, electronic waste, and water usage associated with this new industry.

Marijuana cultivation is one of the most energy-intensive industries in the country, racking up around $6 billion in energy costs annually and consuming 1 percent of all electricity in the US.  The equipment required for typical marijuana production (high-intensity lamps, ventilation, heating and cooling systems, water pumps and CO2 generators), means that just one closet size setup can consume the same amount of electricity as used by the average American home. According to one analysis out of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the carbon footprint for one kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of processed Cannabis is an estimated 4600 kg of CO2 emissions. That is the not-so-green equivalent of consuming 10.6 barrels of oil, burning 4,900 lbs. of coal, or driving 11,025 miles in an average passenger vehicle.

Other states with licensed marijuana operations, such as Colorado, report that large increases in energy consumption are making it difficult to achieve energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets. And while some growers (such as the nation’s largest grow facility soon to be located in Southeastern Massachusetts) will adopt energy efficient practices, it is unlikely that a majority will follow suit without incentives, regulations and an established set of environmentally-friendly best practices.

More marijuana cultivation in Massachusetts could come with a sharp increase in electricity usage. Photo credit: Aulo Aasmaa

More marijuana cultivation in Massachusetts could come with a sharp increase in electricity usage and add to energy efficiency challenges. Photo credit: Aulo Aasmaa

Massachusetts has the opportunity work with the industry to set stringent energy efficiency incentives, greenhouse gas offsets, and water conservation measures. Policymakers on Beacon Hill should establish environmental criteria as part of licensing or other regulations for indoor grow operations, and fund research to establish a set of environmentally-friendly best practices for the marijuana industry. A portion of the marijuana tax, or a fund that growers pay into for exceeding certain thresholds for energy or water consumption, could fund not only these initiatives, but also to help rehabilitate our beleaguered state parks which promote public health and boost our recreation economy.

Bringing once clandestine marijuana operations into the mainstream will require the right balance of incentive, regulation, and guidance. Done right, the new marijuana law will encourage dedicated, environmentally-aware growers to set up shop in our state, and will reinforce our reputation as leaders in growing an innovative, green economy.

Karen Heymann is Legislative Director