Pot growers burn through energy

A new study suggests California grow rooms burn about 8 percent of the power used by homes in the state. A single joint represents 2 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, an amount equal to running a 100-watt light bulb for 17 hours, according to the report.

The report was written by Evan Mills, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who conducted the research on his own time.

Mills found that indoor cultivation represents 1 percent of national electricity consumption at a cost of $5 billion a year.

Although Mills said he simply wanted to examine energy use, some see the report as more fuel for the legalization fire. A blog post at SFGate.com states:

"The study ... makes the case for legalizing and regulating grow operations, suggesting that if marijuana didn't have to be grown in secret and indoors, efficiency could be improved by as much as 75 percent."

Mills objects to that interpretation of his work. He said he's not making the case for legalization.

"Decriminalization won't solve the energy problem even by a long shot," Mills said. "It's a whole separate issue. People don't grow indoors because of laws. People grow inside to maximize potency and to control pests. They grow indoors because of consumer demand for Gucci cannabis."

Mills argues that people buy marijuana like they buy wine, based on a whole list of attributes. Until carbon footprint is one of those attributes, Mills doesn't see much hope for reform.

"There's nothing unique about this," he said. "The problem is that the energy and carbon footprint is not included in the information that consumers get. This is an old story told thousands of times over. It used to be like that for refrigerators. It used to be like that for cars."

Consumer demand is higher for indoor rather than outdoor medical marijuana, said Steven DeAngelo, the executive Director of Harborside – a company that is likely the largest legal retailer of medical marijuana in the world. He said indoor pot fetches significantly higher prices. And a trained professional can tell the difference in a matter of seconds.

DeAngelo agrees that prohibition drove cultivation indoors. But like Mills he doesn't think legalization would solve the problem. Rather, he believes technology can play a major part in reducing energy use.

"It turns out that it is possible to build a greenhouse which has some of the same features of environmental control which allow indoor gardeners to produce really high quality cannabis but also combines the best features of growing outdoors," DeAngelo said. "These are exactly the type of greenhouses that are used to grow commercial flowers."

Mills agrees.

"If improved practices applicable to commercial agricultural greenhouses are any indication, the energy use for indoor cannabis production can be reduced dramatically," he said.

But DeAngelo believes technology is not enough. There has to "be a regulatory environment that's going to allow people from both a legal risk point of view and a financial risk point of view to construct these greenhouses."

Mills says production can become more environmentally friendly, but only with changes by all those involved, including producers, equipment manufacturers and consumers.

Story courtesy of our media partners at California Watch (A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting)

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