The problem of massive energy consumption by legal marijuana-growing operations is not getting any better—and it's poised to get worse.
A new report, titled "Illuminating Cannabis: The Future of Energy in the Cannabis Industry" and written by industry-reporting firm New Frontier Financial Group, suggests that marijuana growers are still using a staggering amount of electricity, equivalent to 1.7 million American homes or 1 percent of the nation's total consumed energy—a number that's been cited as the average energy consumption for several years.
And this already high number is poised to rise along with the growth of the industry and expanding legalization of cannabis cultivation and consumption. Because of the way marijuana is grown indoors, the process requires a great deal of electricity to power heat lamps as well as ventilation and watering systems. By some estimates, producing one kilo (2.2 pounds) of weed is equivalent energy-wise to driving across the country seven times. In Colorado, growhouse power bills can hit six figures. Currently, the cost of all the energy used by legal marijuana growers totals $6 billion.
According to the New Frontier website, the organization "strives to be the Cannabis data analysis and industry reporting authority by collecting reliable data," looking to be the cannabis industry's "big data authority." The report estimates that electricity used for growhouses in the Northwest alone could double in the next 20 years.
New Frontier points out that these energy costs may be an impediment to further legalization for states concerned about the stress put on their power grid, and at the very least would decrease the profitability of marijuana-cultivating businesses.
The report proposes several solutions, including the promotion of outdoor cultivation—which state regulators frequently oppose, citing public safety risks. It also recommends businesses conduct an energy audit to spot areas for improvement, and advocates for switching to more eco-friendly light sources like LEDs.
Clearly, the energy-draining methods used in cannabis cultivation will need to be reexamined as the industry expands. It would be a shame if the benefits of marijuana legalization were offset by its damage to the environment.