Marijuana’s Environmental Impact And The Laws That Regulate It

Marijuana and The EnvironmentMarijuana businesses — just like other businesses — impact our environment. Environmental laws relating to water rights, energy consumption, pollution, and overall carbon footprint all can and do impact marijuana businesses.

Environmental laws typically focus on containing or preventing pollution and disciplining corporate polluters, but they also cover the regulation of natural resources, environmental impacts, air and water quality, and waste management, just to name a few. Given all the facets of both indoor, outdoor, and greenhouse cultivation, in addition to chemical-intensive extractions and infusions of marijuana products, you can easily see why environmental laws are coming into play in the marijuana industry.

Waste management is one of the most common environmental law issues for marijuana businesses. Most marijuana states strictly dictate exactly how to dispose of marijuana products and how those products can be stored or disposed of post-destruction. States have also done a solid job of delineating between “dangerous” and “non-dangerous” cannabis waste and setting up protocols for their destruction and disposal. Most states also take great care to analyze and restrict the types of pesticides, soil amendments, and fertilizers that can be safely applied to marijuana crops.

Though fewer states have enacted laws dealing with marijuana’s impact on water and air quality, we are starting to see glimmers of such scrutiny. For example, in Washington State, recreational marijuana producers and processors are being notified by the Puget Sound Clear Air Agency (an arm of the Department of Ecology) that their businesses must comply with air quality regulations post-licensing. Specifically, producers and processors must pay a $1,150 fee to the Agency and submit an application for a Notice of Construction permit, detailing the following:

  • Odor control equipment for producing/growing and or processing (type, quantity, make and model, flow rate); and
  • Solvent usage information including Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each type.

Producers and processors must also submit with their application the following items:

  • A plan view drawing of their facility including:
    • each room, greenhouse, or outdoor area and the work preformed in each
    • location of each odor control device, associated ductwork, and stacks
  • Schematic drawing of HVAC system for facility indicating path of all air flowing through area where growing or processing occurs
  • Spec sheets for each type and model of odor control device and fan
  • Spec sheet for extraction device
  • MSDS for extraction solvents
  • MSDS for each additional solvent and volatile organic material used
  • Environmental checklist (SEPA)

Energy consumption by marijuana growers is also becoming a big issue. The Washington Post reports that in a 2012 study of the “carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production,”  it was estimated that indoor cannabis (both illegal and legal) uses $6 billion worth of electricity every year, amounting to 1 percent of overall U.S. electricity. In some production-intensive states like California, its percentage was much higher.

Some environmental scholars now see state-by-state legalization of marijuana as an opportunity for local and state law makers to take full control of environmental and energy consumption policies by passing the cost of such effects and consumption onto marijuana businesses via robust licensing and permitting fees. By way of an example, in its medical marijuana licensing process, the City of Las Vegas favored applicants that would be using “green-buildings” or environmentally friendly equipment, or constructing environmentally sensitive grow, processing, and retail facilities within the city. With Nevada facing scarce water and energy resources, this policy makes a lot of sense.

Even outdoor growers are facing pressure under environmental laws because outdoor growing has led to deforestation (see California), loss of wildlife, and erosion, and it often requires large amounts of water and pesticides.

The bottom line? It is only a matter of time before environmental laws and their application and enforcement against marijuana companies becomes a top policy priority.