Making Pot Greener

January 30, 2015

The War on Drugs was the original template for the “culture war” wedge issues that paralyze our political system today – most critically, from this blog’s perspective, around climate change.

Now that we’re all pretty much agreed that the drug war is, and has been, a ruinously expensive, murderously ineffective, unfairly prosecuted, racist failure – and polls tell us that  legal marijuana is coming,  can we set about making it more climate friendly?

Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Marijuana growing operations can be major power hogs. Now that they’re legal in Oregon and Washington, experts are looking for ways to make them more energy efficient.

Indoor pot growing operations use as much electricity per square foot as data centers, according to energy attorney Richard Lorenz with Cable Huston.

“Just growing four marijuana plants uses as much energy as running 29 refrigerators,” he said. “The carbon output is incredible.”

But growers don’t want to sacrifice the quality of their product to save energy, according to John Morris, policy and regulatory affairs director for the energy-efficiency consulting firm CLEAResult.

Lorenz and Morris spoke at an Oregon Environmental Business Council event Wednesday in Portland that focused on the power demands of legal marijuana.

Morris said LED grow lights don’t work as well as they need to for the industry to start swapping out their power-hungry incandescent grow light bulbs. And lights, he said are only a third of all the energy requirements for indoor growers.

Utilities could play a major role in improving the energy efficiency of pot-growing operations, he said, but they’ll need to build a better relationship with growers first.

“Utilities are perfectly set up to work with the growers and produce energy efficient product,” Morris said. “Utilities know how to do this. But we have a history of growers stealing power, and there’s this sense of I just need to pay the bill, I don’t want to talk to you. So, there’s a paradigm shift that needs to happen.”

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council expects the marijuana industry will be one of only three industries actually increasing power demand for the region. By 2035, the council projects marijuana growers will require 250 megawatts of electricity.

“To put that in perspective, 250 megawatts is larger than the load of the city of Eugene,” Lorenz said. “It would be the size of a pretty large city in and of itself – not an insignificant amount of power.”

Mother Jones did a nice investigative piece on illegal pot grower’s environmental impact a while ago, showing that as long as growing remains, in most of the nation, illegal and unregulated, pot growers will act just like science-denying so-called libertarians – renegade coal mine owners or chemical plant operators, raping their local environment at will.

Mother Jones:

Even before voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational pot in 2012, marijuana was quasi-legal in California, and not just for medical use. Senate Bill 1449, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, reclassified possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a maximum $100 infraction—you’ll get a bigger fine for jaywalking in Los Angeles. Indeed, many states have eased restrictions on pot use. But with the exception of Colorado and Washington, whose laws dictate where, how, and by whom marijuana may be grown, they have had little to say about the manner in which it is cultivated—which is challenging to dictate in any case, since growers who cooperate with state regulators could still be prosecuted under federal statutes that classify pot as a Schedule 1 drug, the legal equivalent of LSD and heroin. So where is all this legal and semilegal weed supposed to come from? The answer, increasingly, is an unregulated backwoods economy, the scale of which makes Prohibition-era moonshining look quaint.

To meet demand, researchers say, the acreage dedicated to marijuana grows in the Emerald Triangle has doubled in the past five years. Like the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, this “green rush,” as it is known locally, has brought great wealth at a great cost to the environment. Whether grown in bunkers lit with pollution-spewing diesel generators, or doused with restricted pesticides and sown on muddy, deforested slopes that choke off salmon streams during the rainy season, this “pollution pot” isn’t exactly high quality, or even a quality high. “The cannabis industry right now is in sort of the same position that the meatpacking industry was in before The Jungle was written by Upton Sinclair,” says Stephen DeAngelo, the founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, a large medical marijuana dispensary. “It simply isn’t regulated, and the upshot is that nobody really knows what’s in their cannabis.”

It’s not just stoners who are at risk. Trespass grows have turned up everywhere from a stand of cottonwoods in Death Valley National Park to a clearing amid the pines in Yosemite. “I now have to spend 100 percent of my time working on the environmental impacts of marijuana,” says Gabriel, who showed up at Bear Camp in military-style cargo pants and a kaffiyeh scarf. “I would never have envisioned that.”

A legalization measure will be on the ballot in California, and several other states, in 2016.



One Response to “Making Pot Greener”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    A rather mind blowing post and no one wants to comment on it? The two video clips are disturbing to me—the second especially, since it evokes mountain top removal mining in the east and the idea that the land can be raped for private profit.

    I could say a lot but won’t bother since this topic seems not to be of much interest to Crockers. I will just say that this whole business of “drugs” in all its aspects (including “religion”) is just another proof that man is not worthy of having the position he holds on this planet. We would most easily solve this problem by eliminating man from the biosphere.

    In an aside, marijuana use is of little concern back here, VA and MD are now grappling with a rapid increase in deaths due to heroin (and trafficking in painkillers like oxycontin).

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