As more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana, they’re confronting the reality that cannabis production involves using huge amounts of pesticides, energy, and water, while generating tons of plant and packaging waste.
The result is a patchwork of air, water, pesticide, and waste regulations for the industry across dozens of states, even as the substance remains illegal at the federal level.
States like Michigan, where the Marijuana Regulatory Agency will begin accepting business licenses in November, have adopted rules on issues like industrial wastewater, water resources, and land management for cannabis growers. Illinois, which legalized recreational marijuana this year, will factor environmental planning—including conservation and efficiency efforts—into its scoring of cultivation center applications.
Colorado is tweaking some elements of its marijuana environmental and sustainability regulations after becoming the first state to allow recreational marijuana use in 2014.
And New Mexico, where decriminalization took effect July 1, just launched a committee to work through environmental and other aspects of the legalization of recreational pot in advance of the state’s next legislative session. New Mexico’s focus on climate change and water issues will likely figure into the proposal that emerges, said James Kenney, secretary of the state’s Environment Department.
“We would want to make it the least footprint for producing as possible,” Kenney said.
Among other industry aspects, the department would regulate the safety of commercially-produced food with THC—the psychoactive compound that gives marijuana users a high.
Waste, Water Use Weighed
Expanding or establishing a marijuana industry raises resource questions for states: What land will be used for production? Where will water to grow the crop come from? What to do with the waste?
Pollutants include pesticides, fertilizers, and solvents, while indoor marijuana production can be energy intensive. Legal cannabis cultivation uses enough electricity annually to serve 92,500 homes for a year—a