The carbon footprint of cannabis

Pot grown off-grid

The latest anti-cannabis propaganda says that marijuana-growing has a huge carbon footprint. The report quotes a bewildering range of hypothetical figures about the amount of fossil fuel energy used to grow a single marijuana plant.

The freakonomics web site was totally taken in by this fantasy, and talks about the $5 Billion Carbon Footprint of Indoor marijuana growing.

Its nonsense.

Energy used for growing cannabis “corresponds to 1% of national electricity consumption or 2% of that in households,” says the breathless (and completely mistaken) freakonomics report. “The yearly greenhouse-gas pollution …from the electricity plus associated transportation fuels equals that of 3 million cars.”

Er, wrong.

The researcher behind the latest flurry of headlines obviously had not read off-grid’s article about the way the marijuana industry assisted the development of the solar panel industry. Evan Mills, Ph.D., is a long-time energy analyst and a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of California. But he is clearly not an expert on empirical observation. If he had done his homework he would have known that pot-growers rely heavily on solar and wind power for their energy.
Needing a reliable source of power in the early 80s, the pot-growers of Northern California formed the first major market for solar power. The panels were made by Arco, an oil company that diversified. A former Arco executive told Off-Grid.net last year he was fully aware of the source of the phenomenal sales growth the company experienced. And he used those sales to convince Arco bosses to invest more in solar panel production.
The article we ran last year detailed the exact way in which solar pioneers like Dave Katz sold pot-growers early-model solar panels to grow their marijuana more efficiently while remaining up in the hills.
“Energy costs constitute a quarter of wholesale value,” the report continues. Now that might actually be true, but only by accident. If the wholesale value of cannabis is about $600 per lb, then it is possible that 25% of the value is taken up in energy AND transport costs, but that equates to only 3% of retail value. The rest of the margin is taken up in the succession of middlemen that operate the cannabis pyramid – plus the cost of money-laundering.

The explanation for this farrago of ill-informed speculation lies in the methodology used: “What information sources were used for this work?” says the FAQ:
“Data and assumptions for building the energy-demand model were drawn from the open literature and interviews with horticultural equipment retailers. A detailed list of sources and technical assumptions are provided at the end of the report and in the notes to the data tables,” runs the answer.

But not once does the report mention solar or wind power.

One commenter on the freakonmics story on their web site gets it right:

“Let me see if I understand ….(a) For growing Marihuana you need electricity, (b) for producing electricity you need fossils (carbon, oil), (c) electricity produced by fossils pollutes. Hence growing marihuana pollutes. Problem that wouldn’t exist if electricity wasn’t produce with fossils, hence the real responsible for the CO2 emissions are not the people who grows marihuana indoors but of the policy makers who haven’t decided yet for producing “green energy”. Right?
On the other hand if growing it became legal, there could be some type of regulation, maybe growers would be enforce to use LEDs instead of metal halide or maybe sun energy could be use as a form of “sustainable marihuana growing” who knows, but using this study to blame marihuana growers for being responsible of high CO2 emissions and, in the process, blaming pot, seems ridiculous.”

8 Responses

  1. I have been in the Hydroponics industry since 1985, I own a retail Hydroponics store, I develop fertilizers and potting soil products as well as energy monitoring devices for grow-rooms and greenhouses. I have no axe to grind. I am simply in search of the truth about the energy used and providing comprehensive and reasonable ways to improve the efficiency of growing indoors.I collaborated with Dr. Mills on the study. To call it “anti-cannabis propaganda” is so far off-base that it’s almost laughable. Dr. Mills is completely objective and only took on the project out of curiosity. I know him personally and he has NO AXE TO GRIND! The assertion that pot growers are somehow responsible for development of solar energy is almost as silly as saying that grape growers are responsible for developing wind and rain.

  2. Hemp aint pot
    It is illegal to grow any sort of cannabis, though I have heard that you may buy cannabis indica aka pot aka marijuana at any schoolyard, pool hall or street corner.
    If you are dumb enough to plant hemp (cannabis sativa) to make food, clothing, ethanol etc you may come to a bad end. You may die in a hail of machinegun bullets and have your house burned down on you ala Waco. The SWAT team made an honest mistake. They said, ” Oops. Thought it was pot, but it’s not. Sorry about that,” and swaggered away snickering and guffawing. Well, hey. They said they were sorry.
    EPA worries night and day about soil and water pollution. Does EPA know that 50% of pesiticides and insectides produced are used on cotton , whereas hemp needs none at all? Like, do all those tons of insecticide affect soil and water?
    I hesitate to think that OPEC, and those with vested interest in wood pulp and cotton offer cubic money to the incorruptible, honourable ladies and gentlemen in congress to maintain the ban on growing hemp in USA.
    The U.S. is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not allow hemp production.
    Ron Paul wants to cancel the ban on growing hemp.

    Hemp (Cannabis sativa) – Hemp immediately makes us think of drugs. But there is no need for that! Marijuana is made from a different plant of the same family. Hemp contains such a tiny amount of THC (the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana) that it has no negative effects on humans. Hemp is actually one of the most healthful plants ever known to mankind. On top of that, it lends itself to the production of paper, cosmetics, building materials, textiles, non-toxic diesel fuel, paint, varnish, detergent, ink, lubricating oil, etc. Hemp is an unpretentious plant that can be grown in many climates.
    History: Hemp has been known to mankind for at least 10,000 years. A piece of hemp fabric has been found that dates back to 8,000 BC. Throughout history, whole populations have survived off hemp seed in times of famine. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicines have prescribed hemp for a myriad of diseases. Hemp was grown by farmers in the United States for hundreds of years. The United States presidents Washington and Jefferson grew hemp and praised it in their writings. Hemp was a major American crop in the 18th and 19th centuries, until a man named Harry Anslinger began promoting anti-marijuana legislation around the world, causing the prohibition of hemp cultivation in 1937. During World War II, when the U.S. was short of rope, fabric, and other materials, a campaign called “Hemp for Victory” was launched. Farmers were encouraged to grow hemp in great quantities. Though this was allowed, there was no increase of marijuana consumption. Still, after WW II, hemp farming was again banned.
    Interesting facts: One acre of hemp produces as much fibre as 2-3 acres of cotton. Hemp produces softer and more durable fabric than cotton. The very first pair of Levi Strauss jeans were made of hemp. No pesticides, fungicides, or herbicides are needed to grow hemp, while 50% of the world’s pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides are used to grow cotton. One acre of hemp produces the same amount of paper as 2-4 acres of trees AND it is much better in quality. Hemp paper stays intact for hundreds of years. The first ever printed Bible was been printed on hemp paper. Hemp can be used to make sturdy, resistant, and environmentally-friendly fibreboard and plastic. Henry Ford made a whole car of hemp in the beginning of the 20th century.
    Rich in: Hemp seeds are not intoxicating. They contain a very high amount of essential fatty acids that we need for optimum health. Hemp seeds contain omega-6-fatty acids, omega-3-fatty acids, gamma linoleic acid; 25% of high quality protein with all essential and non-essential amino acids; 20-30% of carbohydrates; dietary fibre; phytochemicals; the minerals phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc; vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, E, folacin, and biotin; carotenoids; and chlorophyll.
    Internal use: Hemp oil comprises 75-90% of essential fatty acids. It helps to prevent arteriosclerosis, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and blood clots, and it significantly reduces the symptoms of neurodermite, rheumatoid arthritis, and PMS. Hemp oil lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels and dilates blood vessels. Hemp oil is very helpful in case of infections, allergies, skin diseases, liver spots on the skin, dandruff, dermatitis, and brittle and dull hair. It improves the condition of hair, skin, and nails. Take a tablespoonful of hemp oil daily or add it to salads and other foods. Add oil after removing food from direct heat. Both hemp oil and hemp seeds boost the immune system. Hemp seeds help lower the levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar; they relieve and heal the symptoms of arthritis, depression, fatigue, constipation, and migraine. Hemp seeds are good in case of food allergies and food intolerances. Hemp can be consumed also in the form of flour. Hemp flour is as high in protein as eggs and meat, and it contains all essential and non-essential amino acids. Hemp protein is great for athletes. It is of higher quality and more nutritious than soy protein. Ayurvedic medicine uses the juice of hemp to treat diarrhoea, epilepsy, delirium, insanity, colic, rheumatism, gastritis, anorexia, nausea, fever, jaundice, bronchitis, leprosy, diabetes, colds, anaemia, menstrual pain, tuberculosis, asthma, gout, constipation, malaria, and spleen disorders.
    How to prepare: Add the anti-aging, nutrient packed hemp seeds to cereals, casseroles, spaghetti, etc. Hemp flour can be added to breads, cakes, cookies, etc. You can substitute 8-10% of required flour with hemp flour. As hemp absorbs a lot of water, it might be necessary to add more liquid than the original recipe calls for.
    Prepare a low calorie, low fat protein boost of hemp flour, organic goat-milk yoghurt, and In-Liven Probiotic. My favourite start for a good day! Yum!
    If this article was helpful to You and You would like to share it with someone else, You are more than welcome to copy it. But You are requested to add my name – Eve Juurik- and my website address – https://www.TheSpringOfLife.net – to the article. All the material is copyrighted. Thank You!
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  3. It doesn’t matter what type of energy they used…the only thing that matters is that energy could have been used better.
    But as far as I know, MJ can be grown outdoors. In Canada they have large hemp fields that use little energy, and are also used to manufacture textiles and paper.

  4. While it may be that a significant fraction of Marijuana growers do use solar energy in order to power their lights, the study contained in this this article https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/pot-article/ points out a significant draw on the energy market. Additionally, large scale operations run their lights at night (during a time when no solar power can be produced) so unless along with energy generation a robust-enough battery system was simultaneously utilized, the calculated energy usage would shrink by half, still a very significant percentage of our nations’ energy bill. I hope there can be a drive from pot growers to spark LED grow-lamps, as the available products at market cannot provide effective lighting when compared with metal halide and high pressure sodium.

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