Mankind has cultivated numerous cannabis varieties for hundreds of years, and the plant grew in the wild for thousands of years before that. From indica to sativa, cannabis has been used for paper, clothing, medicine, nutrition, and almost everything in between. The plant is known for its medicinal properties, and some of its uses may have environmental benefits.
However, as criminalization initiatives drove the plant underground and cultivators turned to clandestine production approaches, the methods by which the plant was grown became a bit questionable. Now that many jurisdictions are allowing legal cultivation of industrial hemp and other cannabis products, it’s time to assess the environmental effects, both positive and negative, of this new industry.
It’s believed that cannabis has been grown by humans for at least 10,000 years. One of the plant’s earliest uses was as fiber for clothing. In China, where cannabis is believed to have originated, hemp-based fabrics are still commonly used in military uniforms. Hemp fiber is much more eco-friendly than cotton, which needs more pesticides and water throughout the cultivation process.
Hemp’s use in paper production dates back to approximately 200 BC. Over a two-decade growth cycle, an acre’s worth of hemp plants will produce as much paper as four to 10 acres of mature trees. Hemp plants grow faster and need less processing, which means fewer harmful chemicals are used in production. Additionally, hemp paper can be recycled several times, while the recycling potential of wood-based paper is more limited.
Marijuana plants can actually boost soil health. Your gorilla glue autoflower or blue ice weed strain plants’ roots may reduce the concentration of harmful metals and chemicals in the soil. Now, if your soil is that questionable you may want to have it professionally tested before you consume any of your harvested buds. Hemp plants were even used to clean up the nuclear mess left at Chernobyl because of this incredible capability.
The deep roots of these plants maximize the area of soil that’s treated by a cannabis crop. The roots stabilize the land, reducing soil erosion caused by over-farming, land movement, and rainfall.
Though cannabis crops offer a range of ecological benefits when they’re cultivated sensitively and responsibly, practices employed in the illicit cultivation industry typically cause problems. The prohibition of higher-THC products pushed many growers underground, which means that most crops are hidden indoors. It’s no surprise that so many people choose to buy high THC seeds, since many are using the herb for its maximal psychoactive benefit. In the sections below, we’ll discuss the harmful environmental effects of cannabis cultivation.
When cannabis is grown indoors, it requires more energy. To grow and thrive, plants need intense light, which makes up for the sunlight they’re not getting. Furthermore, heaters, dehumidifiers, and ventilation systems are often used which all use additional electricity.
Indoor cannabis grow ops are electrically powered, and most of that electricity comes from fossil fuel sources. In 2019, almost 63% of the electricity in the United States was derived from fossil fuels. In many cases, illicit growers use diesel or gasoline generators to power their operations and remain undetected.
Many of the country’s growers believe that the energy-related effects are negligible. They maintain that, although their lighting and equipment draw from the power grid, the sales taxes from their legal products can be spent on environmental initiatives that offset the harm they’ve done.
Although it’s possible to grow a water-efficient cannabis crop, especially when compared to other crops such as almonds and cotton, large-scale outdoor grow ops use a substantial amount of water. One cannabis plant may absorb up to six gallons of water each day. Over a growing season, that adds up to thousands of gallons per acre. You can also Buy fast flowering strains that will take less time to grow in total and are also typically smaller plants. Both of these attributes translate to less water requirements per plant.
When compared with the almond crop in the example above, which takes over three gallons of water to produce just one almond, it may not seem like much. However, as cannabis farms grow in numbers, it’s sure to affect water levels, especially in places with frequent droughts.
The cannabis cultivation industry produces numerous waste streams, some of which fall under solid and hazardous waste regulations. Dangerous wastes generated by a cannabis cultivation facility may include used refining chemicals, organic solvents, reactants, aerosols, residual fertilizers, cleaning products, batteries, lighting ballast, and much more. It’s up to the grower to follow their state’s laws and to form an appropriate hazardous waste management strategy. Keep this in mind when you buy AK-47 seeds or Gelato seeds for sale online and be prepared to handle your wastes responsibly.
An unpermitted grower who wants to remain undetected may choose public lands as a place to conceal their operations. Not only are these lands a great place to hide a grow op, but they’re also a prime wildlife habitat.
Cannabis growing sites interfere with watersheds and habitat restoration. Trespass grows, which use substantial amounts of toxic chemicals to prevent crop damage, have been shown to harm mammals, birds, and fish. One study out of California found that almost 80% of deceased fishers (small meat-eating mammals) were exposed to chemicals at illicit cannabis grow sites. The rate is increasing, and other species such as coyotes, ravens, gray foxes, and owls have also been poisoned by the byproducts of outdoor cannabis cultivation. The number of pesticides used on a half-acre of illegally grown pot could cover 1000 acres of growing corn, and wildlife may pay the price.
It’s not just illicit growers causing environmental problems. Since Colorado’s dispensaries started selling legal recreational marijuana in 2014, emissions from the state’s cultivation facilities have raised air pollution concerns.
The state’s public health experts are working on air quality models to gain a greater understanding of how commercial cultivation affects the atmosphere. Research shows that cannabis plants produce VOCs or volatile organic compounds that pollute the air.
If cannabis plants emit volatile organic compounds, there’s a significant possibility that, under the right conditions, cultivation may affect the ozone layer. The terpenes that give cannabis its unmistakable smell are a form of VOC that, when combined with sunlight and nitrogen oxide, form aerosols that degrade ozone.
In a desert climate such as that found in Denver, where there are few natural VOC sources, a new pollutant source will typically lead to the ground-level production of ozone. It’s thought that legal cannabis production will become the state’s biggest VOC source, worsening the issue by blending with the nitrogen oxide from car exhaust. High VOC concentrations are linked to a variety of health issues, from fatigue and nausea to cancer and long-term liver damage.
Cannabis plants have natural defenses that may reduce their need for fertilizers and pesticides. In large-scale grow ops, though, cultivators use these chemicals to protect their crops and increase their yield. The prevalence of fertilizers and pesticides may contribute to the destabilization of the surrounding ecosystem.
It’s tough to admit, but it’s inevitable. As cannabis is legalized in more places, its cultivation will become more tightly regulated. As far as the environment is concerned, that may be a good thing.
Now, underground cultivators rely on less-ethical methods of water and energy consumption. This is a big issue, as some growers take water straight from streams and rivers to irrigate their plants.
This harms native wildlife, as it may reduce water levels even further. A low water level increases the water’s temperature, which puts a greater strain on amphibians and fish. Furthermore, illegal diversion of water from a stream may dry it up completely.
As cannabis becomes more legally and socially acceptable, cultivators may need to increase their reliance on eco-friendly watering methods, such as rainwater collection. The legalization of recreational cannabis encourages more growers to use greenhouses, as there’s no concern over concealment. The use of greenhouses mitigates the consequences of outdoor marijuana cultivation.
The regulation of cannabis production may address most of the environmental issues associated with the cultivation process. In the state of California, where about 70% of the country’s legal marijuana is grown, the Department of Food and Agriculture oversees the licensing process. However, many municipalities can also grant licenses, and regulations vary from one place to another.
The black market is still booming. It’s costlier to buy cannabis legally than to purchase it on the street, and not all cultivators are willing or able to go through the process to become legitimate. To the extent that states can encourage growers to join the legal market, their cultivation methods can be regulated like other crops, which will address the potential environmental effects.
Despite the environmental effects of cannabis cultivation, there are ways for growers to minimize their carbon footprint. An indoor cultivator can reduce waste by collecting and reusing natural ingredients such as soil and water, while an outdoor grower can use organic fertilizers and pesticides in an eco-friendly way.
Unfortunately, cannabis growers in some jurisdictions face barriers when starting outdoor operations. Because of prolonged prohibition, the US government requires that cannabis (including hemp for industrial use) must be grown out of the public’s view. Because of this requirement, most legal crops are grown indoors. In the future, when legal marijuana gains wider acceptance, producers and farmers will hopefully have more choices of where and how to plant their medicinal marijuana crop. I49 has been a longstanding American seed bank where you can buy pot seeds online from the comfort of your own home.