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Will LEDs Uproot the Weed Business?

More often than not, growing green just isn't green. Chris Walker wants to change that.
Frosty nugs at an undisclosed boutique dispensary and grow house in Denver soak up photons from a new LED lighting system by Radiant (Photos: Christopher O'Coin / Motherboard)

Let's face it: For all marijuana's crunchy ties to sustainability and "being in tune with the Earth," growing considerable amounts of weed is fucking awful for the environment.

That's maybe a slight exaggeration. Not all grows do more harm than good, if you want to call it that. Be they outdoor, indoor or greenhouse, soil-based or hydroponic or aquaponic, many cannabis grow ops make a conscious effort to close the loop, to ensure that massive amounts of energy and water and whatever else aren't being flushed down the toilet in pursuit of growing the dankest of dank nug at blistering clips. But with legislators in Washington and Colorado, which both recently legalized receational bud, still forging comprehensive grow protocols and standards--and with gobs of money up for grabs--nagging Old Grow blemishes like fertilizer run off, lax water usage, and hulking 1,000-watt HPS (high-pressue sodium) grow lights still have much of the post-prohibitive dawn stuck in a wasteful, irresponsible past. More often than not, growing green just isn't green.


Chris Walker wants to change that. Walker is with Radiant LED, an American weed-lighting company powered by the Stockholm-based lighting manufacturer Heliospectra. He says it's a matter of shedding a new sort of light on weed as the domestic marijuana industry stems its way out of the darkness and above ground. It's part of a bigger shift, a radical rethinking of light teased out by the New York Times' Felicity Barringer. From soothing treatments for jaundiced newborns, to smart lightposts and light-generating walls and ceilings, Barringer writes, our longstanding notions of light are inverting.

For Walker, it's the promise of revolutionizing how we go about growing weed. Lots of weed. Lot of really good weed.

Side-by-side comparison, with some medicine foregrounded, of LED and HPS lighting rigs at one of a handful of domestic grows beta testing Radiant's system

I recently had the chance to catch up with Walker at an undisclosed boutique medicinal cannabis dispensary and grow in Denver. The place is one of a handful of American grows beta testing Radiant's new LED lighting system. Each rig is Internet-enabled--no way to get to the grow at 3am to tweak intensity, no problem--and is tuned to the spectrum that Walker says cannabis thrives under.

Sleek and efficient, the Radiant units stood in stark contrast to the familiar and jaundiced glare of 1,000-watt HPSs, a bank of which hummed over about 75 percent of the grow's plants.


"Yeah, these are happier," Walker said, leaning in for a whiff of Sour Diesel flowering under the soft, purple-y LED hues.

Walker inspects LED'd product

We'll save the rest for our upcoming documentary on the Silicon Valley of Weed. For now, the point is that the new green-green tech, of which LED lighting is a big part, stands to completely uproot the legal weed business.

The worldwide LED industry is already a $12.5 billion business, and is projected to sit at $84 billion by 2020. Accoring to Barrringer, lighting accounts for over 20 percent of electric power generated in the US every year, with the US Energy Department claiming LEDs can slash consumption by nearly 80 percent. That means there's going to be a lot of money to be made as LED champions and others along the leading-edge of New Weed take the first steps toward scaling up their technologies. Promising a huge return on investment and with rigorous scientific underpinnings to boot, Radiant's rigs could well be right there at the front of the pack.

And yet flipping the switch will demand a seismic shift in perceptions surrounding alternative lighting. People hate change. People are used to "existing modes of lighting," Barringer explains: the Edisonian screw-based socket, flourescent ceiling tubes, metal halide, sodium parking lot lights, and on and on. Those will remain for years to come.

For now, Radiant awaits the initial data returns from their beta growers. But so long as the process of growing weed remains terrible for the Earth from which it symbolically and literally (at least some of it) springs, Walker will bravely bear the torch, determined to change weed for the better, one diode at a time.


Reach Brian at @thebanderson

More weed:

Do Guns and Weed Mix?

The Silicon Valley of Weed, in Photos

Is Weed Getting Too Good?

Is Colorado Planning to Tax Weed Higher Than Cigarettes?

3D Printing Is Getting Stoned