Environmental Assessment of the Cannabis Industry in the United States

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Michael Fotos
Essay Abstract: 
Cannabis ssp. cultivation has proliferated in the United States since policy liberalization first occurred in the mid- 1990’s. The environmental impacts associated with cannabis cultivation appear substantial, but have been difficult to quantify do to poorly funded research and the semi-legal nature of the agricultural practice (Carah 2015). Potentially significant environmental impacts associated with cannabis cultivation include high rates of energy and water demand; as well as water, air, and soil contamination (Ashworth 2017). Cannabis is a resource intensive plant; requiring warm temperatures (25-30 deg C), highly fertile soil, high-intensity lighting (∼600 W/m2), and large amounts of water (up to 22.7 L/d, twice as much as grape production in the same region) to produce at an industrial scale (Ashworth 2017). Estimates indicate that indoor cannabis cultivation accounts for 1% of total electricity use in the United States, and that approx. 1.16 kg of CO2 are emitted during the production of 1 kg of dried flower product in the state of Washington (Mills 2012). Cannabis cultivation practices are also associated with deforestation, land clearings, and biocide use that can have detrimental effects on the wildlife populations and habitat (Wang 2018). As the cannabis market continues to expand through state legalization efforts, the environmental impact is expected to increase as demand does (Butsic 2016, New Frontier Data 2017). Overall, there is a need for more in-depth, thorough research regarding the environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation; in order to ensure future policies and regulations work to mitigate the damaging environmental effects of cannabis production in the United States.