Marijuana and the Environment: A Harbor House Chat

As the cannabis industry grows rapidly, more land and resources are needed to fill the demand. Illicit grows are well-known for their harmful impacts on nature and humans. But state-legal operations have a long way to go yet. 

Here are just five pressing concerns around marijuana and the environment along with some possible solutions. 

5 Concerns About Marijuana’s Environmental Impact

Water use

Cannabis growers and processors must figure out how to get enough water — both indoor and outdoor grow operations can create significant new demand on existing water infrastructure. Water treatment facilities also aren’t designed to monitor for waste products that come through the water from cannabis plant processing. 

Air pollution

Growing and manufacturing cannabis products can impact air quality not only for employees but also for local communities residing in the surrounding area. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted during plant growth, or when solvents are used to extract THC, e.g., when making most concentrates. 

Waste management

Cannabis operations produce multiple waste streams that often require special handling and management including: 

  • Agricultural waste
  • Hazardous waste containing mercury from the use of UV lights
  • Flowers, roots, stalks, leaves, trim, and other plant residues
  • Waste (often toxic or flammable) from THC extraction chemicals

Inadequate documentation of marijuana waste and/or its disposal is a very common cannabis-related EPA violation. 

Electricity use

Indoor marijuana growing operations use a variety of heavy-load electric devices like: 

  • UV lights — on for up to 16 hours per day in parts of the growing cycle
  • HVAC systems
  • Irrigation systems
  • Air filtering — to manage humidity and plant odors

Pesticide misuse

Misuse of pesticides threatens the health (and in some cases survival) of land and water wildlife, consumers, and employees. Although pesticides are heavily regulated, cannabis’ federally illegal status prevents the EPA from approving any pesticides for use on the plant. State pesticide programs try to fill the gap with limited success. 

Solutions to Environmental Concerns

Zoning laws

Cannabis cultivation and processing operations are subject to local regulations like zoning laws. These control where and how they can operate including: 

  • Buffer zones
  • Hours of operation
  • Odor control requirements
  • Necessary operating permits
  • Density conditions
  • Storefront characteristics

Federal legalization

Legalization really could close current environmental loopholes. Once cannabis is regulated on a federal level, this will inadvertently address many environmental issues around its production. 

Illegal operations, of course, operate completely outside of agricultural regulation. But federal legalization is very likely to make operating a less complicated process. This change could incentivize some illegal growers to become legal. 

Incentives for sustainability

Compliance doesn’t only have to be a painful source of expenses. It can also be an opportunity for marijuana businesses to save money. The introduction of renewable energy tax incentives and grants for more efficient agricultural technology can help growers and producers reach their financial goals, faster. 

Visit Harbor House, Massachusetts 

When buying cannabis, it’s important to know you’re buying from a dispensary that values sustainability and minimizing our impact on the environment. Drop by Harbor House in Massachusetts to find exactly how we keep our planet at the forefront of all that we do. 

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