It turns out that marijuana might not be as green as most people think. The cannabis market in the United States is currently worth more than $3.5 billion, and it is quickly emerging as one of the country’s largest electricity hogs. The 24 hour demands of thousands of indoor cultivating locations are putting tremendous stress on electricity grids and making the practice of energy conservation very difficult.
In the marijuana industry, there has not yet been a major push to obtain design standards or energy-efficient equipment. As a result, the marijuana facilities in the 23 states where marijuana is legal at some level produce greenhouse gas emissions roughly equal to that of the entire state of New Hampshire. Although marijuana has countless legal requirements on its production and sale, energy regulations are not one of them.
Legal marijuana operations have blown out transformers, which have even caused fires in some cases. Other grow operations make use of generators that spew pollution into the air. With demand for marijuana continuing to grow, the problem is only going to get worse. Basically, the marijuana industry is quickly becoming a big polluting monster.
After legalization in Colorado, the state’s more than 1,234 licensed growing facilities represented nearly half of the state’s new demand for electricity. By 2014, just two years after Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use, growing operations in the state used as much power as 35,000 households.
Needless to say, the electricity that goes into a single growing operation is quite amazing. The growers make use of 1,000 watt light bulbs that shine up to 500 times brighter than standard reading lights. They also use major systems of air conditioning, fans and dehumidifiers.
Although electricity typically represents nearly half of the overhead costs of a grow operation, the profits from the plants greatly make up for this. A pound of medical marijuana sells for about $2,500 on the wholesale market. So while the growers might be blowing tons of cash of electricity, it’s worth it to them.
However, officials might have found a solution by putting heavy “excessive energy use taxes” into place. In Arcata, CA, officials receive $300,000 per year from such taxes. Voters put the taxes into place after it was discovered that police and firefighters spent as much as 20% of their working hours dealing with marijuana growing operations. The tax largely put a stop to people from conducting growing operations in their homes.
Mayor of Arcata Michael Winkler said, “Instead of having our electricity use going down, we had roughly a 30 percent increase in electricity use in five years prior to the tax. We were not meeting our sustainability goals as a result. Now we are.”
These taxes force growers to either become more efficient or to get out of the industry. Cities that have employed such taxes have seen both the number of grow operations and their energy outputs go down tremendously.