How the Cannabis Industry Can Make An Impact on the Environment

Where's Weed

Published on 8/3/22

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At this point, the legal cannabis industry is just too big and powerful to deny. As it currently stands, the legal recreational industry is already worth billions. It is only expected to grow more significantly in the next few years, thanks to legalization efforts in states all over the nation. Despite legal recreational use being approved at the state level in only 19 states and U.S. territories recreationally and 39 medically, the legal cannabis market in America is booming like never before. 

Coming off record sales figures amid a global pandemic, it's clear that legal weed is here to stay and has massive consumer support and demand. Massive corporate growth operations have ensured supply meets the ever-growing demand for legal cannabis products. Still, just like any booming and incredibly profitable industry, there are serious questions about long-term sustainability. That's where we here at Where's Weed come in! 

We wanted to take a deeper look at the topic of cannabis and the environment, specifically cannabis and sustainability. In this piece, we're going to dig deep into how and why the legal cannabis industry has an impact on the environment, the delicate balance between massive, widescale corporate grow operations, small farmers, and cannabis production overall, and try to answer the question of is how legal cannabis sustainability can be achieved over time and what's being done about it already. 

Is the Cannabis Industry Environmentally Friendly? 

Let's consider those massive corporate grows that have popped up in legal states all over the country to keep up with the ever-growing supply demands of the legal cannabis industry. As we've covered here, growing cannabis inside is expensive. The electricity to keep those grow lights running comes from fossil fuel-run power plants, which means that these big grows contribute to the world's carbon footprint. Taking the indoor aspect of the operation out, cannabis plants require a lot of water to grow properly. If experts are to be believed, water could soon become a limited resource in many areas of the country. It's worth considering that if so much water needs to be used to keep cannabis plants alive, is that the most sustainable practice long-term? On top of that, the packaging of legal cannabis products also needs to be considered.   

With all those downsides in mind, however, the legal cannabis industry has been as diligent and proactive as possible regarding long-term environmental sustainability. We're going to break down how and why below! 

The Impact of Hemp Production

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While producing legal cannabis, particularly indoors in massive corporate grows, can still do with some improvement regarding long-term environmental sustainability, the same can't be said about growing hemp. Regarding the question of "is growing hemp bad for the environment" the answer seems to be a resounding no. 

There are a few reasons why hemp is an incredibly sustainable and environmentally friendly crop long-term. Let's break a few of them down in detail: 

Naturally Pest Resistant

Unlike many other mass-grown U.S. crops, like soybeans, cotton, or cannabis, hemp can be grown on a large scale without chemicals, pesticides, and fungicides. This is a big deal because runoff from those crops can often contaminate underground water supplies and heavily impact the environment. As we grow more and more aware of the impacts of climate change, hemp could be a pillar in the future of sustainable farming.   

It Doesn't Need Lots of Water

Compared to many other staple crops here in the U.S., hemp doesn't need too much water to grow properly. Hemp is what's known as a less water-intrusive crop, meaning it requires less land per pound of fiber to grow than cotton, for example. It takes 2,700 liters of water to produce one cotton tee shirt in a world where sustainability matters; hemp could be a viable solution. 

Helps Slow Deforestation

It's no secret that we have a carbon problem here on Earth. That's where the forests, oceans, and other forms of natural carbon reduction come into play. However, we're taking down these forests at a massive, unsustainable rate to produce products like paper. That's where hemp comes in. 

Hemp plants produce four times more pulp that can be made into paper, growing faster and taking up less space. On top of that, hemp paper can be successfully recycled up to 8 times. Instead of chopping down forests of trees, one of the most effective carbon filters on the planet, we should grow more hemp to keep up with the needs and demands of the paper industry. 

How the Cannabis Industry is Pushing for Sustainability 

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So now that we understand how and why the legal cannabis industry has struggled to strike a balance between growth and long-term sustainability let's take a closer look at some of the steps that dispensaries and the legal industry at large have taken to try to make the industry more eco-friendly.  

Supporting Your Local Cannabis Company

As we mentioned before, due to the sheer demand for legal cannabis products in the U.S. alone, it's impossible to completely phase out large-scale corporate indoor grow operations. However, dispensaries can do to support long-term cannabis industry sustainability by making a commitment to buying from small-scale local growers in their community or state. 

Not only does this offer dispensary visitors more variety of products, but it also supports a small, local farm that's likely practicing sustainable, regenerative farming, using little to no harmful pesticides on a large scale, and offering locally-sourced options that don't involve fossil fuel-dependent transportation to get to the consumers.

Supporting these small, local craft cannabis growers and businesses is great for the health of the local community that the dispensary is in and for the long-term health of the legal cannabis industry as a whole.

Greener Packaging

We have a plastic problem here on Earth, to put it lightly. Not only is a massive amount of non-biodegradable plastic junk floating around in our oceans, but it's also starting to be found in human blood. We as a species need to cut down on plastic use. One area where the legal industry can do that is via its packaging.  

Many cannabis brands in dispensaries now use brown paper bags, glass jars, containers to hold cannabis flower and concentrates, and glass cannabis smoking or dabbing accessories. 

Not only does the choice of no plastics make a difference for the environment, but it also increases the overall quality of the cannabis product itself. It's a win-win for both producers and consumers! 

Healthier Farming Practices

As we mentioned, massive corporate growth operations will likely never be completely phased out. They can, however, be held to a higher standard. In many places in the U.S., cannabis can be reliably and sustainability grown outside under the sun's natural light. Not only does natural sunlight produce better quality plants and cannabis, but it's straight-up healthier for the planet from a sustainability perspective than indoor grow lights. And suppose a cannabis farmer is clever with their crop rotation. In that case, cannabis can quickly be produced on a large scale yearly without too much soil degradation, pesticide pollution, and water waste. 

But, if you're forced to grow cannabis inside, there are more innovative and eco-friendly ways to do so. Solar power, for example, could be put to use here. 

How to Push For Cannabis Industry Sustainability

Like it or not, the best way to push the cannabis industry in the right direction is to do so with your wallet. As a legal cannabis industry consumer, you have much power over what brands do. 

Take this quote, for example: 

"The growth of the (cannabis) industry and the diversity of the plant's applications present a breadth of opportunities that align with U.N. sustainable development goals (SDGs). The industry's welcoming legitimizes the emergence of legal cannabis to the U.N. to explore how ESG can help build a positively impactful and globally sustainable industry." 

 Try to give your money to cannabis companies, brands, and dispensaries following these U.N. guidelines on long-term sustainability. The best way to promote this is to support companies that practice and prioritize sustainability. While it might not fix everything immediately, long-term sustainability will be a long-term project.