As marijuana legalization laws sweep across the country, most consumers are jumping for joy -- widespread marijuana will cut back on potentially dangerous prescription drugs and help manage complex symptoms in people with a multitude of conditions. While these factors are indeed true, marijuana also has a dirty little secret most consumers don't realize: it's a huge energy hog.
Production and Power Supply: How the Two Are Connected
As legalization laws pop up around the country, demand for quality marijuana products has skyrocketed. All of this demand has given rise to hundreds of grow operations striving to produce quality products for consumers; unfortunately, commercial marijuana production in cities like Denver has proven to be a huge strain on local power supplies.
Here's why: In Denver alone, there are approximately 354 commercial cannabis grow operations. In 2014, these grow operations consumed a whopping 200 million kilowatts of electricity. While this number still represents less than 2 percent of Denver's overall power supply, electricity usage in the city has been growing at an annual rate of 1.2 percent, largely due to the ballooning number of grow operations.
The reason marijuana cultivation is so energy-intensive comes down to basic growing practices. Thanks to excessive lights, fans, and cooling and hydroponic systems required to cultivate cannabis indoors, cannabis grow operations consume eight times as much electricity per square foot as a typical office building. While it may seem like the obvious solution is to place cannabis grow operations outdoors, this idea would be virtually impossible to do given the current demand for cannabis products across the country.
While an indoor grow operation is considerably more energy-intensive (indoor grow lamps are an estimated 500x more powerful than reading lights), the control allowed by an indoor grow operation is necessary to continue producing cannabis on a commercial level.
Going Green with Cannabis
While it's clear cannabis is a significant burden on energy grids around the country (cannabis production currently accounts for 3 percent of California's total energy consumption), few cities or states have plans in place to deal with the increasing demand for cannabis and the strain on the power supply. Fortunately, there are many ways for environmentally minded consumers to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Here are a few tips to support cannabis operations that have less impact on the environment:
- Buy from small operations. Whenever possible, purchase cannabis from small, local grow operations. While these operations likely still use lights and heating and cooling systems, their impact on the energy grid is likely to be far less than that of a major corporate operation.
- Opt for organic. While they may be difficult to find, outdoor, organic grow operations do still exist. These operations use significantly fewer resources than large indoor operations and don't spray their plants with toxic pesticides, which is a bonus for consumers.
- Look for eco-minded cultivators. Some of the large grow operations do more to protect the environment. Look for companies that use sustainable energy systems (like solar, wind or hydro heating, cooling or energy production) in their production practices.
While cannabis is certainly a powerful crop for dozens of purposes, the fact remains that large grow operations make a significant dent in the energy grid of the cities in which they reside. Fortunately, consumers can do their part to mitigate this impact by being aware of cannabis's energy needs and seeking to support smaller, less harmful operations.