As legalized medical and recreational marijuana continues to spread across the United States, the environmental impact could be huge. To create perfect growing conditions for their crops, indoor marijuana farmers currently use as much electricity as two million average U.S. homes. And some illegal growers use highly-polluting gas generators rather than plugging into the grid.

But Gina Warren of Texas A&M Law School says legalizing marijuana may also be an opportunity.

Warren: “Policymakers have a unique opportunity to incorporate climate risk assessments into their state marijuana licensing schemes and to require indoor growers to use only climate-friendly energy generation.”

But there are challenges. Some states, such as Colorado, do not yet currently generate enough clean energy for growers to rely on renewables. In cases like this, Warren suggests a carbon fee combined with a requirement that growers increase their use of renewable energy as it becomes available. And, since only four states have legalized recreational marijuana so far, she says there’s still time for other states to develop policies to make the grass greener on their side of the fence.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Evan Lowenstein
Photo: Row of multiple age Medical Marijuana aka cannabis plants growing during vegetative stage in soil under a mix of fluorescent and metal halide (copyright protected).

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David Appell

A regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections since 2012, David Appell, Ph.D., is a freelance writer living in Salem, Oregon, specializing in the physical sciences, technology, and the environment. His...