Rising hashish indoors produces loads of greenhouse gases – how a lot will depend on the place it is grown

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The lights used to grow weeds indoors use a lot of electricity, but the facilities use a lot of energy to create a comfortable environment for the plants

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Jason Quinn and Hailey Summers • • The conversation Using data from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and industry, we found that growing pots indoors results in higher greenhouse gas emissions in the Mountain West, Midwest, Alaska, and Hawaii than on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Using data from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and industry, we found that growing pots indoors results in higher greenhouse gas emissions in the Mountain West, Midwest, Alaska, and Hawaii than on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Photo from iStock / Getty Images Plus

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The Research Brief is a brief presentation of interesting academic work.

The big idea

Indoor cannabis production is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and the environmental impacts vary significantly depending on where it’s grown, according to our new study.

The lights used to grow weeds indoors use a lot of electricity, but the facilities use a lot of energy to create a comfortable environment for the plants. This means that air conditioning or heating systems maintain the correct temperatures. Producers also pump in carbon dioxide to increase plant growth. This accounts for 11% to 25% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the plants.

The greatest energy consumption, however, results from the need to constantly bring fresh air into growing systems. All of this outside air needs to be treated so that it has the right temperature and humidity. This is a very energy-intensive process because the air exchange rate is typically so high.

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All of these inputs contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, much more in some regions than in others.

Using data from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and industry, we found that growing pots indoors results in higher greenhouse gas emissions in the Mountain West, Midwest, Alaska, and Hawaii than on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. This is because the coastal climate is milder, you need less heating or air conditioning, and the power grids use more clean energy

Cannabis grown in Southern California has the lowest emissions at 143 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per ounce of dried cannabis. Meanwhile, East O’ahu, Hawaii has the highest emissions at 324 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per ounce. That’s roughly the equivalent of burning 16 gallons of gasoline.

Why it matters

Policy makers and consumers do not pay particular attention to the environmental impact of the cannabis industry. In Colorado, the weed industry accounts for 1.3% of the state’s total annual emissions. This is similar to emissions from coal mining and garbage disposal for the entire state.

The cannabis industry is so new that researchers don't even know how much is grown indoors. The cannabis industry is so new that researchers don’t even know how much is grown indoors. Photo by msk.nina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

There is currently little or no regulation of emissions for growing cannabis indoors. Consumers do not think about the impact on the environment either. Overall, this industry is developing and expanding very quickly, regardless of the environment.

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Which is not yet known

The cannabis industry is so new that researchers don’t even know how much is grown indoors. In addition, each indoor facility is unique. Some are old warehouses with outdated equipment while others are much more energy efficient.

Growing cannabis outdoors or in greenhouses could be a way to remove the need for light and environmental controls. However, the researchers are also unaware of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with these growth methods. All of these unknowns make policy or best management practice difficult to develop.

What’s next

Our team’s goal is to better quantify and communicate the environmental impact of cannabis production so that those looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are better informed.

We want to show the greenhouse gas emissions per serving of tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that creates the “high”. Our preliminary results show that a serving of THC – roughly 10 mg of dried flowers – is likely to have higher greenhouse gas emissions than a serving of beer, wine, spirits, coffee, or cigarettes, regardless of where the weed was grown.

Our team is also interested in understanding where weeds can be grown if federal legalization is in place. Legalization could allow policymakers and producers to grow weeds in places and in a much more environmentally friendly way, but they need the knowledge to do so.

We apologize, but this video could not be loaded.

Jason Quinn, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Sustainability Research Laboratory at Colorado State University; and Hailey Summers, Ph.D. Student of Mechanical Engineering and Sustainability at Colorado State University.

This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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