It goes by many names:
cannabis, marijuana, pot, chronic, grass, reefer, shwag, Mary Jane. Whatever the name, the trend is clear: the weed is legal but the herb ain't
green. Nearly half of all U.S. states
have enacted-or have pending-legislation to legalize, decriminalize, or in some
way permit the use and cultivation of marijuana. As a result, marijuana has become a
significant topic of conversation in the U.S.-especially in the areas of social
policy and criminal law. One
conversation yet to reach fruition, however, is the industry's projected impacts
on energy demand and the climate. As the
industry grows, so will its negative externalities. Indoor cannabis cultivation is one of the
most energy-intensive industries in the U.S., requiring electricity to power
lamps, to maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels, and to power fans
for ventilation, among other things.
This energy consumption, unless otherwise mitigated, results in
significant greenhouse gas emissions.
This article explores the opportunities that legalization brings in
addressing the negative impacts on energy usage and the climate. It concludes that simply incorporating the
marijuana industry into the existing energy regulatory framework will do little
to address its negative impacts. It
recommends that state and local policymakers take advantage of the opportunity
to consider climate risks and energy usage before issuing business licenses for
indoor marijuana cultivators.
Section II analyzes the trend of legalization, or at least
decriminalization, of marijuana possession, distribution, sale, and use. Portugal and Uruguay have legalized (or
decriminalized) marijuana. Nearly half
of the states in the United States have done the same, particularly for medical
use. Four states-Alaska, Colorado,
Oregon, and Washington-plus the District of Columbia have legalized it for
recreational use. This Section will take
a close look at some of the new cultivation and use laws and discuss how the
United States federal government is responding to the trend.
Section III summarizes marijuana cultivation methods and
their negative impacts on the environment, energy usage, and the climate. Whether cultivated indoors or outdoors,
growing marijuana creates significant negative externalities. Indoor cultivation is highly energy-intensive
and results in significant greenhouse gas emissions. However, it allows for-according to some-a
better, more controlled yield and product.
It is also less likely to result in environmental damage and requires
less on-site security personnel. Outdoor
cultivation, on the other hand, does not have the energy requirement. However, without regulation it can result in
significant impacts to the environment due to deforestation, overuse of
pesticides and rodenticides, and extensive irrigation.
Next, Section IV of this article will explore the opportunities
that legalization brings in addressing the negative impacts of indoor
cultivation on energy usage and the climate, such as curbing electricity theft,
utilizing utility energy efficiency programs, and connecting to the electricity
grid. Clandestine marijuana producers
use inefficient and carbon dioxide-spewing on-site diesel and gasoline
generators to meet their electricity needs.
Legalizing the marijuana cultivation can allow these producers to
connect to the grid, which would decrease waste and emissions. As will be discussed in Section V, however,
shifting indoor growers onto the grid will not fully address the issue. The vast majority of the electricity supplied
by the United States' grid is from fossil fuel sources. The marijuana industry is already one of the
most energy-intensive industries in the United States, and with legalization
its energy consumption is only expected to grow. This is at a time when the International
Panel on Climate Change ("IPCC") is reporting that the energy supply sector is
itself the largest consumer of energy and responsible for nearly thirty-five
percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
With continued industrialization across the globe, energy demand is
expected to increase exponentially. While it may not be feasible, or even
reasonable, to consider the complete removal of fossil fuels as sources of
electricity, it is possible to take steps to prevent new industries-especially
highly energy-intensive ones-from contributing to the mix.
State and local policymakers at the cutting edge of
regulating new industries such as the massive, legalized marijuana industry
have a unique opportunity to incorporate carbon-free energy requirements into
their licensing schemes. Working from a
clean slate, policymakers can embed climate protective provisions within their
regulations. Thus far, Colorado and
Washington, and various local governments within those states, have established
licensing requirements for most aspects of the marijuana industry. Colorado, and in particular Boulder City and
County, have taken steps to implement a 100% renewable energy requirement for
indoor marijuana cultivators, and Washington is in a good position to do so as
well. Implementing such a requirement
will ensure that the burden will be borne by the industry instead of by the
general public. Marijuana can continue
to tout itself as the "green" industry that it is perceived as being, and
public policymakers can help to save the polar bear.
.T. Bruckner et al., Energy Systems, in Climate Change
2014: Mitigation of Climate Change,
Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 518(O. Edenhofer et al. eds., 2014) [hereinafter "Working Group III"], available at http://mitigation2014 .org/report/publication/ [http://perma.cc/5CTY-XDL7] (last visited Mar. 25,
.Id. at 21.
.As will be discussed infra, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have not yet established
licensing requirements, as the marijuana recreational laws just passed at the
November 2014 elections.
.Ezra Rosser notes that the majority of the
population will never have an occasion to see a polar bear, but polar bears are
the representative for the anti-global warming movement. Ezra Rosser, Offsetting and the Consumption of Social Responsibility, 89 Wash. U. L. Rev. 27, 70-71 (2011).