The Mean Side of Green

by Miles Leicher

Whenever something happens in this country concerning the legal status of marijuana, the ‘Real Time’ fax machine lights up. It doesn’t matter if it’s about a small town in Maryland or a ballot measure for the State of California; someone decides that we need to know about it. I don’t know what’s worse: that people assume we’re a bunch of pot-obsessed loonies, that they think we don’t follow the news, or that’s it’s nearly impossible to roll a joint with fax paper…not that we’ve tried.

One item that didn’t come via fax – but probably should have – is a recent study by Evan Mills of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Dr. Mills is an energy analyst who took it upon himself to research the power usage required to grow cannabis indoors. The results were astounding: not only did he conclude that cannabis production currently accounts for nearly 1% of our national electricity consumption, but he also proved that it is actually possible to finish a study about marijuana.

The cause of the problem is simple: it’s the Man’s fault. Specifically, the federal government continues to ban nearly all cannabis cultivation while states laws are growing increasingly, um, relaaaaaxed. According to Mills, the resulting demand for the crop, coupled with the need to keep it on the down-low “lead[s] to particularly inefficient configurations and correspondingly large energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions.” It’s literally a hidden cost.

As if that’s not buzzkill enough, the study continues, “Processed Cannabis results in 3000-times its weight in carbon emissions (one joint is equal to about 2 pounds worth of CO2). For off-grid production, it requires 70 gallons of diesel fuel to produce one indoor Cannabis plant, or 140 gallons with smaller, less-efficient gasoline generators.” Talk about “sticky icky.” Perhaps most disturbing of all is the finding that up to 70% of the people involved in the marijuana industry have names like “Spider.”


“Analyses of this sort point to the need for energy providers, policymakers, and forecasters to better account for this particular driver of energy demand, and thus more accurately evaluate the effects of unrelated programs and policies on the consumption of energy at the macro scale.”

That’s nerdspeak for “Legalize it.” And slowly but surely, that is what’s happening. According The New York Times, some estimates peg marijuana as the largest cash crop in the United States – even bigger than corn – so it’s only a matter of time before they start taxing it. And, of course, turning it into jellybeans. [Note: if you take that idea and run with it, I want royalties.]

The rising cost of drug enforcement and incarceration is also quickly becoming justification for states to stop harshing peoples’ mellows. Even Texas has been overhauling its low-level drug sentencing guidelines, favoring treatment over imprisonment – a move that has already saved about $2 billion. That’s Texas we’re talking about. For them, jailing people is as much a way of life as rodeos, barbeque or rewriting history books without all the “fact-y” stuff. And Texans love wasting electricity so much, they put it in their chairs.

Regardless of what happens with the law, it’s good to finally know the impact that this industry has on our environment. Armed with that information, our nation’s foggiest minds can get to work dreaming up solutions to the problem. Solutions that will undoubtedly involve nacho crumbs, navel lint and Taco Bell’s “Fourthmeal.”