Cannabis Cultivation Comes With Environmental Complications
As long as the complex licensing process works itself out, Ohio’s medical marijuana program should still be launching at some point, and growers will be allowed to cultivate the newly legal plant for market. However, as has been noted by some news outlets for years, whether society treats marijuana like a medicine or a drug, it’s still a crop that needs to be grown with light, soil and water — and it comes with its own environmental impacts.
For starters, marijuana plants are much thirstier than typical crops, which could be a problem if Ohio farms find themselves in a dry season. A report out of Oregon showed that one mature weed plant could consume as much as 23 liters of water a day, compared to a grape plant used for wine, which consumes around 13 liters.
On the bright side, with marijuana cultivation leaving the illegal realm, its growth practices could be more regulated, meaning water won’t be misused and streams won’t be damaged by excessive irrigation.
However, there are still other problems that plague any kind of crop’s cultivation. Land clearing and the use of pesticides can have negative impacts on the environment as well.
In California, some rodenticides used to keep animals from damaging marijuana crops have leaked into the groundwater and are harming endangered species in protected areas. But again, legalization of the plant could mean better control of which chemicals are used and which ones aren’t.
Of course, since marijuana can only be grown outdoors during certain months in Ohio, indoor cultivation needs to play a factor in developing enough product for market as well. However, this also comes with its own complications, as indoor facilities require a ton of electricity — from high-intensity light bulbs, to ventilation, to air conditioners.
A 2012 study out of California showed that 3 percent of the state’s total energy use went to indoor marijuana cultivation alone, and that was far before the state legalized the plant fully this year. Depending on how the energy is generated, loads of carbon dioxide could be going into the atmosphere, unless a state gives incentives to growers who use clean energy, as is the case in both Colorado and Oregon.
Overall, the bright side is that with legalization, any illegal growing operation can now use cleaner electricity from the grid, as opposed to secretive off-the-grid propane or diesel fuel generators that were meant to be hidden.
In addition to this, greenhouses can become more available with legalization, as growers no longer need to conceal their crops and can open up their operations to a controlled environment that utilizes more natural resources. This means far fewer light bulbs and fan-based ventilation systems and much more sun use and open vents.
Furthermore, a state can always opt to put some of its tax revenues from a marijuana program toward dealing with any environmental impacts — but until Ohio can get something as simple as its licensing program in order, the consideration of these environmental impacts may have to be left on the back burner.
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