Study: CO Indoor Cannabis Farming Produces More Greenhouse Emissions Than Coal Industry


Cannabis might not be such a “green” crop after all.

A study out of Colorado State University found that the state’s indoor marijuana farms produce substantially more greenhouse gases than its coal mining industry.

This creates dissonance for Green New Deal types who support legalizing cannabis as a way to finance more government freebies and eliminate perceived racial inequities in the criminal justice system.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in more than a dozen states and for medicinal purposes in several others. However, many of those states prohibit outdoor commercial cannabis farms and require that the plant be grown indoors, according to the Daily Mail.

Even if the law didn’t require indoor cultivation, outdoor farms aren’t ideal since the crops are at the mercy of the weather, insects and, of course, thieves.

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Indoor farming requires high-intensity artificial grow lights, fans to circulate air, dehumidifiers and climate-control systems that draw heavily on natural gas and electrical power and result in sky-high energy consumption.

According to the Daily Mail’s report on the CSU study, electricity use in Denver from cannabis cultivation “went from 1 percent of the city’s total electrical consumption to 4 percent” between 2013 and 2018.

And electricity, which is generated from burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, is a primary source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The carbon footprint of indoor cannabis cultivation is enlarged further due to the fact that producers pump carbon dioxide inside their greenhouses to increase plant growth.

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The CSU researchers found that the carbon emissions from cannabis farming in Colorado are more than 30 percent higher than from coal mining — and Colorado is the 10th-largest coal-producing state in the U.S., the Daily Mail reported.

According to Hailey Summers, the lead author of the study, growing one ounce of marijuana creates the same carbon emissions as burning 7 to 16 gallons of gasoline, NewScientist reported.

And indoor cultivation results in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of dried flower, according to Science Daily.

In fact, the carbon footprint of the cannabis industry is even larger than this, since this study only looked at emissions tied to production and did not consider those associated with storage and processing.

The news that marijuana is a “dirtier” industry than coal comes as unwelcome news for Democrats who not only have been pushing to legalize the drug but also claim to be staunch advocates for the environment.

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Nearly 8-in-10 Democrat voters support legalizing recreational marijuana, according to a November 2019 Pew survey. And practically all of the Democratic presidential candidates wanted it. Ten Democrat-run states and the Democrat-run District of Colombia already have it, according to Filter Magazine.

In December, House Democrats voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement Act. And last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, declared that “ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary” and pledged that Senate Democrats would prioritize doing so in the current session.

But the same party also widely supports the Green New Deal, whose goal is to eliminate the U.S. carbon footprint by 2030 (the DNC platform calls for net-zero emissions by 2050). Polls say the Green New Deal is supported by 87 percent of Democrats.

Democrats also advocated for a return to the Paris Climate Accord, which calls for a commitment to dramatically reducing carbon emissions. And just hours after being sworn in as president, Joe Biden rejoined the accord.

The global warming bugaboo also has climate activists pushing to reduce livestock and dairy farming, which produce about 18 percent of the world’s environmentally damaging methane gases, according to the United Nations.

However, according to the CSU study, smoking a joint from a dispensary results in “more greenhouse gas emissions than [eating] a hamburger at your favorite dive bar.”

Democrats argue that both marijuana legalization and climate activism further racial justice. They contend that the criminalization of marijuana has led to the disproportionate imprisonment of minorities. Regarding climate, they maintain that minority communities have been overly exposed to pollution.

They may be right on both points. But having a shared objective, however noble, does not mean that these two policies — climate advocacy and marijuana legalization — can exist in harmony in practice.

Climate activists should not ignore the environmental consequences of marijuana legalization, and those who champion the decriminalizing of marijuana should not pretend that strict environmental regulations will not adversely affect cannabis manufacturers.

They can’t have it both ways.

Democrats need to be honest about these issues when formulating their agenda. But that may be a toke too far.

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Ameer Benno is a constitutional law attorney. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 in New York's Fourth Congressional District, and he frequently appears on national television and radio to give legal and political commentary.
Ameer Benno is a constitutional law attorney. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 in New York's Fourth Congressional District, and he frequently appears on national television and radio to give legal and political commentary.